At well past midnight on an early summer Sunday, I had time on my hands and a dead man on my mind.
I walked down a darkened gravel road, with only the light of a bone-white moon and its dazzling company of stars to guide me. Surrounded by a familiar blanket of night, I pondered the life of a vampire. Before I’d run away from my life and responsibilities in New York to escape to Southern Manitoba, a vampire named Holden Chancery had helped save me from the brink of certain death. During my recovery, the vampire council we both served handed me his death warrant.
I had successfully completed a seemingly impossible job for the council, and as a reward they told me I had to kill one of my only friends. I wasn’t sure if vampires understood the concept of stress leave, but it didn’t stop me from pulling a vanishing act and crossing international borders.
I stood at the intersection of the gravel road I’d been traveling and the deserted highway it bisected, and hesitated before making my way across the blacktop. I was going to go into the small town on the opposite side of the highway when something caught my eye. It was only a brief flash of movement, but enough to grab my attention.
My whole body tensed. Staying as still as an owl tuned in to a mouse, I listened to the sounds of the night. First I heard only crickets, a distant birdcall and the sway of summer grasses brushing against each other. Then, once I was almost certain I was imagining things, I heard the sound of leaves crunching underfoot and the snap of a dry twig.
I inclined my face to the left and sniffed the air. From my maternal line I had inherited an intriguing collection of gifts. My mother was a werewolf. While I did not have her habit of turning into a wild animal every full moon, I did manage to luck into a few of the less furry traits. Keen senses of smell and hearing were chief among them.
On the air was the pungent stink of cow manure, the wet, mossy smell of damp earthy duff, and from the direction of town the human aromas of gasoline, burnt dinners and stress. I closed my eyes and concentrated.
There. Something animal, but reeking of adrenaline instead of fear. Under that was the unmistakable whiff of humanity. The combination of the two created a telltale perfume. Were. And judging by the familiarity of the animal smell, it was a wolf.
I opened my eyes and scanned the tree line again, my heart pounding with a mix of exhilaration, anxiety and guilt. For a hopeful moment I concentrated on the way my mouth tasted. Had I savored a hint of cinnamon or lime, my heart would have tripped with joy. The first flavor would have meant Lucas Rain, King of the Eastern wolf packs, had come to find me. The tang of lime would have had a much more carnal response, because it would have meant Desmond Alvarez, Lucas’s second-in-command and best friend, was waiting for me in the woods.
The absence of any taste except for the musky one associated with all werewolves told me whoever was hiding among the trees was not one of my wolves. The presence of a werewolf in this area was surprising enough. If it wasn’t someone here to collect me, then who were they and what were they doing here?
Finding a solo wolf out here in rural Manitoba, where I knew there were no other lycanthropes, was a bit of a shock. I needed to know who was in the woods and what their purpose was. If they were up to no good, it was up to me to keep them the hell away from town.
I looked down the road into Elmwood to make sure no other late-night pedestrians were out who might question my next move. Once I was sure I was alone, I sniffed the air one last time to make sure I knew where I was going, then dove off the road and into the ditch.
Sprinting across the field next to the road, it took me a few moments to get my bearings on the uneven ground. My ankle twisted to the side when I stumbled on a gopher hole. Cursing my bipedalism as I crashed down, I brushed the dirt off my palms and knelt on the ground, letting my heart calm itself while I tried to figure out if the sound of my fall had alerted the wolf in the woods that he was being followed.
To be fair, I didn’t know the wolf was a man, but about three quarters or more of all werewolves were male. It wasn’t that daughters refused the Awakening more often, it just seemed like werewolf parents had sons more often than daughters. Maybe it was an evolutionary thing, I didn’t know. But werewolves were predominantly male.
This wolf, male or female, hadn’t been able to ignore the sound of a hundred and ten pounds of clumsiness hitting the ground in a flourish of profanity. I could hear them retreating into the woods.
Some stalker I was. Secret McQueen—half-werewolf, half-vampire, hired gun of the underworld—and I couldn’t even run across an empty field without alerting one solitary wolf. Truly pathetic. Maybe this was the world’s way of telling me I shouldn’t have left my day job.
I stood up, dusted off my shorts and listened, then turned to the south and gave chase again.
I reached the heavy tree cover and ducked under the outstretched branch of an evergreen. Underestimating the height of the branch, my head was jerked back when the pine needles tangled themselves into my hair. Ignoring the tugging as best I could, I took an exploratory sniff to relocate my quarry.
I smelled the air a little more deeply, urging my suppressed werewolf nature to engage so my combined abilities could help me locate the mystery wolf. Still, the scent was gone.
“Impossible,” I hissed.
Wolves couldn’t vanish into thin air. Yet all I could smell was pine, dirt and the cool scents of night. I listened, holding my breath, hoping I had missed something. But I was alone in the woods. Whoever I’d been chasing was gone, taking with them my misguided hopes of some message from home.
I slumped down into the damp moss and kicked the pine tree out of frustration. The tree rattled from the force, shaking some pinecones loose, where they fell to the ground—plop, plop, plop. The fragrance of pine now overwhelmed everything else.
No longer able to use the unknown werewolf to distract myself, my mind returned to the thoughts I’d left behind on the road. Holden was now the only thing I was able to focus on. I was going to have to come to terms with the warrant I’d been issued. It was only a matter of time before the Tribunal grew tired of my very un-vampire-like hissy fit and assigned the task to someone else. Someone like my human partner, Keaty, who would have no qualms about killing Holden.
But I couldn’t believe Holden had turned traitor. This time I would need a why. Holden had dedicated his afterlife to being one of the lowest-ranking vampires in the council, a warden, for over two hundred years. He’d been given the thankless task of being my liaison, a job no one envied him. And he’d done it all without complaint. So what would cause him to go rogue now? It made no sense.
I got up with moss sticking to the backs of my bare thighs. I flicked it off and started in the direction of the road. Before the chase, I had planned on going into town to waste some time and money at the only bar, but I was no longer in a social mood.
Instead of taking the road north into town, I set my sights south and back towards my grandmere’s house.
I didn’t bother turning on the basement light as I followed the stairs to the lowest level of the house. All the windows that had once been installed had long since been removed and bricked over, so the light of the waxing moon did nothing to illuminate the darkness. I didn’t need light to find my way through the familiar hallways, passing the laundry room and small bathroom, running my fingertips over the wood-paneled walls until I arrived at the doorway of my own bedroom.
The dark was a comforting blanket to me, and I let myself collapse backwards onto my unmade bed. The cotton was a cool embrace against the heavy heat that had begun creeping into the summer nights. I sighed, and my breath was hot on my lips as I exhaled. Dawn was still an hour away, but I found myself unusually tired. The chase through the woods and the sudden disappearance of the mystery wolf left me dumbfounded and cranky. Plus, chasing anything without catching it was always frustrating.
I stared at the low ceiling, imagining what might bring a lone wolf into my territory, and what motivation led him to be in Elmwood of all places. I chided myself for letting my guard down and not paying better attention during my evening runs for the telltale signs and smells of a new wolf. I shouldn’t have relaxed my constant wariness for a second, but being back in Elmwood had caused me to take my safety for granted.
If this wolf was one of the dissenting pack formed under Marcus Sullivan, the wolf I dispatched to an early grave three months earlier, they might be here to do me harm. Meaning Grandmere and the whole town could become collateral damage in a war that had nothing to do with them. As far as I was concerned, the war was over. Lucas’s position as king was secure, which I’d guaranteed by killing Marcus.
I fell asleep to the nagging thought of how many times I’d been wrong about these things before.
I hadn’t dreamed since the night I’d almost died. My daytime sleep usually passed in a comatose stupor, the near-death state of dozing vampires. On the few rare occasions I’d had dreams in the past, there’d been an overtone of premonition to them. Which isn’t to say I’m psychic, I sure as hell am not, but when I do dream, it’s for a reason.
It had once saved my life.
Because I dreamed so infrequently, and because my dreams were so lucid, I often had difficulty differentiating my dreams from reality. Unless, of course, my dream involved a wedding dress. That was always a dead giveaway to it not being real.
However, in the dream I found myself in that night, I wasn’t wearing anything at all.
The first thing that caught my attention, aside from my missing clothing, was the presence of satin sheets. The departure from my familiar cotton bedding was noteworthy.
I splayed my hand out, palm down, and felt the smooth, almost-liquid texture of the sheets. I burrowed my face into the pillow and let out a contented sigh. I could handle dreams about fine bedroom decor.
Then my wandering hand met up with skin that was most definitely not my own. I sucked in a breath and held it. Nothing here smelled like either of my men. There was no taste in my mouth, and nothing triggered the alarm of wolf in my brain. So, who…
Tentatively, I turned my head and opened one eye. I let my gaze follow my arm down to my hand, where it rested on the pale curve of someone’s lower back. Pale. So, so pale. Their skin was as white as mine, and mine had never seen the light of day.
I opened both my eyes, and the pair looking back at me was not blue like Lucas’s or gray like Desmond’s. These eyes were a brown so dark they were almost black, and the instant recognition made my heart seize. My hand spasmed on his back.
He rolled onto his side, propped up on an elbow and took an assessing inventory of my body, which was lying fully exposed on top of the sheets. I let him look, unencumbered by the shy morality of humankind. I was more interested in why he was sharing my dream than why he was checking me out.
“So you can’t look at me naked in real life, but in a dream it’s okay?” I asked, recalling all the times he’d come into my home and imposed an outdated sense of modesty on me.
“It’s your dream.”
I made a dismissive grunt and sat up so he was no longer looking down on me.
“Don’t be coy with me, Holden, not now.”
The vampire gave a sad smile, letting the barest trace of emotion say all the things he could not allow himself to utter out loud. He reached out and brushed a curl from my face.
“Why do they want me to kill you? Why you?” I implored.
For a long time he did not reply, twisting a yellow-gold ringlet of my hair around his finger. I took a mental inventory of his appearance and longed for his returned presence in my life.
He looked tired, which was an impressive feat for a vampire, and his skin was almost translucent in places, which told me he wasn’t eating enough. His hair was getting longer, some of the natural curl showing through. It had grown past his ears and now flirted with the base of his neck.
Holden was always vigilant about his appearance. He’d once been an editor-at-large for GQ, and I had never seen him look anything less than perfect. He considered his appearance a point of pride, and his pride ran deep.
Mirroring his gesture, I reached out and ran my fingers through his hair, surprised by how soft it was. I trailed my hand from his hair to his cheek, his cheek to his mouth. His gaze didn’t leave mine, even as my thumb pressed down on his lower lip. I pressed more insistently, and he let his mouth fall open. His fangs were exposed.
I shivered when his tongue flicked against the pad of my thumb.
“You won’t kill me,” he said matter-of-factly.
“I have to.” I began to withdraw my hand, but he caught my wrist.
“You. Won’t. Kill. Me.”
There was a flash of fang in his words, and a deep chill curdled my insides. He did not release me and instead used the advantage of his superior strength to draw me towards him. With his one hand still in my hair, he forced me to look him straight in the eyes.
I was immune to the vampire ability to enthrall their human victims, known as the thrall, but it felt like that was what he was trying to do. Of all vampires, Holden knew of my immunity the best, so I wasn’t sure what his intentions were. I swallowed hard, and he pulled me closer so our bodies pressed together. My skin felt hot where it touched his.
“I need you, Secret,” he whispered against my lips. I shivered again, but this time it wasn’t from fear.
“Where are you?”
“I’m safe, for now.” He trailed his fingertips down my left cheek.
“I can’t come home.”
“You have to. I need you.”
“If I come home, Sig will make me kill you.”
“Will he?” He had his mouth hovering over mine, his lips brushing the oversensitive surface of my own, bringing a new wave of heat over my body. I was having trouble breathing, and he was moving his hands towards my lower back.
“As far as Sig’s concerned…” I trembled, “…it’s you or me.”
A smile curved his mouth as his tongue traced the outline of my lower lip. “It won’t be me,” he promised.
Then, with a movement so fast it lasted less time than my alarmed gasp, he dropped his head and sank his ready teeth into my exposed neck.
“Secret is fun and sexy! Fans of Anita Blake and Riley Jenson will enjoy Secret’s high-octane adventures and complex relationships. Dean’s strong supporting characters and fast-paced storytelling will keep readers coming back for more.”
— Jenn Bennett author of Kindling the Moon
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“Sierra Dean has added even more dimension to the already grand world that she’s created.”
— Reading the Paranormal on A Bloody Good Secret (5/5 stars)
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“I love Ms Dean’s world, and the fantastic characters that inhabit it.”
— Long and Short Romance Reviews (reviewed by Foxglove) on A Bloody Good Secret (5/5 stars)
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“A Bloody Good Secret has thrills, chills, great action scenes and erotic sex, what more could anyone want?”
— Jo, Joyfully Reviewed
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“Lots of action and never a dull moment… hot sex and a love triangle that gets pretty complicated. I can’t wait to see what happens to Secret next, I’m sure it will be exciting whatever it is.”
— Dee A, Fallen Angel Reviews (5/5 stars)
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“I seriously can’t get enough of this series or its characters, I absolutely loved the first book and novelette, Sierra Dean really knows how to suck you into her story and make a girl fan herself with all the men who make girls swoon.”
Seeing Night Reviews (5/5 stars)
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“The way this story layers in people and plot pieces from past stories and the other books really strengthened this one for me. I love the voice the author’s given Secret, the world of the Vampire Council and the glimpses of Lucas’ pack that we’re beginning to get. The villains are very scary but Secret needs to watch herself around the nice guys too—it makes me wonder what on earth is next for this woman and how soon I’ll get to read about it.”
— Basia’s Bookshelf (5/5 stars)
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“A Bloody Good Secret— Love To Read For Fun (4/5 stars)
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“Sierra Dean does such a great job at keeping her readers entertained. Her books are well written… I would recommend this series to anyone that enjoys Paranormal Romance as well as Urban Fiction.”
— Hanging With Bells (4/5 stars)
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“The story in this installment is go go go. Nonstop excitement with twists that make your eyes pop out of your head from time to time… Secret is an awesome character, bringing with her the perfect mix of strength and softness. She often makes me laugh out loud while reading her dialogue. The stories so far have been well paced and fun to read and Sierra has a gripping writing voice that makes me want to keep reading.”
— Yummy Men and Kick-Ass Chicks (4/5 stars)
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“I really enjoy the world that Ms. Dean has created in her Secret McQueen series. From the name, Secret McQueen, to Secret’s job and her intricate relationships we are given an energetic and feisty urban fantasy that engages and holds your attention to the end. A wonderful balance of humor and suspense; it’s the characters in here that make this story so superb.”
— Tori, Smexy Books (4/5 stars)
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“The 2nd Secret McQueen novel was a killer follow-up to the first, and a definite Urban Fantasy great that fans will fall in love with. Secret is a wonderful character and Dean does an incredible job of pulling in the reader and keeping them on the constant edge of their seats. UF fans will not want to miss out on this one!”
— MinnChica, The BookPushers (4/5 stars)