I was stuck between a rock and a hard place. Literally.
A wall of solid limestone was digging into my back, and in front was a vampire trying his hardest to shove me through it. His arm was on my neck, jutting my chin upwards and grinding my scalp against the jagged rock.
I swatted at his arms, but he just laughed at me.
“Some assassin you are,” he mocked.
Oh, so we were going to play it below the belt? I was an expert at that. I thrust my knee up, driving it into his groin, and when he dropped his arm from the surprise, I dug my heel into his foot before smashing my elbow across his face. There was an audible crack of grinding bone when I connected with the delicate tissue of his nose.
Before he could respond—and it was only a matter of time—I bounded across the small space and looked for anything I could use to my advantage.
“Son of a bitch,” the vampire growled. “Did you have to break my nose?”
“I thought this was no-holds-barred.”
“I didn’t think you’d play dirty.”
I rose out of my fighting stance, lowering my fists, and walked over to the vampire, who was straightening the broken bones of his aquiline nose.
“You’ll heal. Don’t be such a pussy,” I taunted, but when he didn’t rise to the jab, I put a hand on his shoulder. “Holden?”
Holden Chancery, once my vampire liaison and council superior but now technically one of my flock, was crouched low to the ground, cupping his nose like a dramatic schoolgirl who’d been struck by a dodgeball. I wanted to tease him some more, but I had to be sure he was ready for it.
Since I’d been promoted to a seat on the Tribunal, I now had to worry about stuff like undeads’ feelings and the other day-to-day concerns of pulse-challenged Americans everywhere.
He grabbed my extended arm, locked the elbow and swept his leg out to knock my feet from under me. I landed flat on my back with a loud thud, and the breath was forced out of my lungs. Holden jumped on me, sitting on my stomach with one leg on either side of my ribs and well out of reach of my knees. My arm was still extended, and he grabbed my fist as I was swinging for a punch.
“Hmm. This feels familiar,” he said.
“Who’s playing dirty now?”
Holden leaned in close so his face was only inches away. “Do you want to play dirty?”
A thrill rocketed through me, but I kept my breathing even and my pulse stayed level. His brown eyes were fixed on me, waiting for some sort of invitation. A not-insignificant part of me wanted to give it to him, especially knowing how magnificent his kisses were, but I wasn’t free to indulge in what he was offering.
So I headbutted him.
He released his grip, and I squirmed out from under him and ran. He was hot on my heels, and when I was out of the tunnels I got as far as the winding stone staircase before he caught up with me. Strong arms locked on to my waist, and we both tumbled to the floor, where I narrowly avoided cracking my jaw on the bottom step. Before we had a chance to rise, someone grabbed Holden and someone else came to stand between us.
The vampire warden blocking Holden from me had fixed my former handler with a hard stare. Holden, for his part, looked ready to kill the guard who was holding the sentry’s arms behind his back.
“Wardens,” I snarled. “Stand down.”
The two guards looked at each other in silent debate over whether or not it was safe. I balled my hands on my hips and tried to look as menacing as a five-foot-four girl could. It was the power radiating off me that seemed to settle the matter for them. Holden was released, and the guards moved aside.
“Our apologies, Tribunal Leader Secret.”
The title made my blood run cold. This new job was going to take a lot of getting used to. I no longer faded into the background of the vampire council. Now I was in charge of it.
“Chancery will escort me to my next location,” I instructed.
“I—” One of the guards tried to argue, but I wasn’t having it.
“Look, we both know Sig will have me followed regardless. There’s no harm in the sentry walking with me.”
The guards nodded, and Holden and I left the council headquarters without further incident. It was bad enough I’d been taken off assassin duties, but now it seemed like I couldn’t brawl in the confines of the council without getting someone in trouble.
The building housing the council was in SoHo just off Green Street, and as luck would have it, my next meeting was only a few blocks south at Bloomingdale’s.
I tucked my arm through Holden’s as we walked together in the chilly winter air.
“Thanks for the fight,” I said to break up the uneasy silence.
“I feel so useless since Sig and Juan Carlos barred me from hunting rogues.”
“You’re more of a target now. We’ve talked about this.”
“I know.” I rested my head against his shoulder as we walked. “I’m just not used to standing by and watching the action. And none of these freelancers are worth s**t when it comes to killing rogues.”
“You’ll never think anyone did it as well as you.”
“Are you disagreeing?”
“As much as it might be detrimental to my long-term health to question the opinions of a Tribunal leader…” he elbowed me in the ribs, “…I think some of these freelancers make up for what they lack in experience by bringing a modicum of subtlety to their work.”
“I resent that. I’m going to suggest to Sig we have you killed.”
Holden shrugged, but when I looked up he was smiling. “You’d have to save me all over again.”
“Pff. I learned my lesson last time. It’s not worth the effort.”
We came to a stop outside the department store, and Holden stared at me for a long moment. When I opened my mouth to speak, he dipped his head. I turned my face at the last second and his kiss caught my cheek, but there was no hiding the new jump in my pulse.
“Secret,” he whispered.
Whenever I was in highly visible public areas, especially when I was going to and from the council, I had protection. Just because I couldn’t see them all the time, didn’t mean they weren’t there. Sig originally planned to have me followed all the time, but I’d put a stop to that plot before he could put it into action. I already had one permanent werewolf guard living in my house, and I was never alone for long, so I’d whittled my warden detail down to the bare minimum to appease the Tribunal leader. This close to the council headquarters, they’d still be trailing me, and if they were watching, my actions would be reported back to Sig. I didn’t need them to see anything that could be held against me.
Holden straightened and took a step backwards, bowing his head with stiff propriety. Then he vanished before I had a chance to say anything else.
But what else was there to say?
“Dean’s latest in the Secret McQueen series… provides a fast-paced holiday mystery with a dash of hot romance. Fans of Jeaniene Frost’s “Night Huntress” series will enjoy these characters.”
— Library Journal on Secret Santa
* * * * *
“Sierra Dean has done it again… A very fun and fast-paced story that easily draws you back into Secret’s world. Sierra Dean’s imagination is both fascinating and disturbing. Plus, she can write some damn sexy kisses.”
— Reading the Paranormal on Secret Santa (5/5 stars)
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“This was a nice light change from the darker full books, even if there still was a bloody killer running amok – this has it all from dinner with the parents to a knife fight to the death. If you haven’t read the other books in the series, this could easily be a good place to dip your toe in.”
— Basia’s Bookshelf on Secret Santa (5/5 stars)
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“I love this series.”
— Modokker Book Picks on Secret Santa (5/5 stars)
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“The world that Sierra Dean has created is a unique mix of reality and fantasy, with humans and paranormal beings living and working together… This is one holiday treat for those who like things a bit different for the season.”
— Long and Short of It Reviews (Reviewed by Foxglove) on Secret Santa (4.5/5 stars)
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“Another great addition to the Secret Series. The novella is action packed while trying to chase the killer, but there are also some really sweet and tender moments.”
— MinnChica, The BookPushers on Secret Santa (4/5 stars)
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“Another great read from Ms Dean.”
— Claire’s Book Corner on Secret Santa (4.5/5 stars)
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“If you are looking for a new, fresh, UF/PNR series to get into, you will not be disappointed with Secret McQueen. It’s just as unique as what Secret is and you’ll find yourself wanting to read more of her. What are you waiting for, get started!”
— Hanging With Bells on Secret Santa (4/5 stars)