Eternal Hearts by Jennifer Turner
Toni Tutoro just wants to go home. Banned from Chicago’s vampiric society after cutting a swath of violence through the city, she must now successfully complete an investigation for the Lord of Chicago to regain the right to live in her hometown again.
To ensure Toni’s safety during her probationary period, Drake Black, a feared assassin, is secretly contracted to protect her. Even with direct orders to keep his relationship professional, and his own personal vow to never get involved with a female vampire again, Drake finds himself drawn to Toni in ways he can’t explain. But unbeknownst to him, he’s tied to one of the people who drove Toni to her night of destruction.
Drake’s legendary heritage holds the key to Toni’s survival and success, but will she be able to forgive his connection to the brutal night that robbed her of those she loved most? Will Drake be able to forget the betrayals in his past and risk taking one more chance? But most of all, can they find a way to reach each other in the darkness?
Read an Excerpt
Every muscle Toni owned tensed as she stared up into the angry eyes of Lord Christian Locke, Mr. Fancy Pants himself, right there…in the flesh. She silently cursed her horrible luck as he deftly stepped around Drake and moved to stand directly in front of her.
For the second time that night, she shifted between her feet as a pair of veiled blue eyes bored into her. But unlike Drake’s, Christian’s eyes weren’t filled with sadness and pain – his were as cold and calculating as she remembered. And if anything else lurked somewhere deep behind them, anything at all, she either couldn’t see it or didn’t know how to recognize the emotions.
What she hoped was inside him somewhere was compassion and warmth. She wanted to believe that behind those frigid blue eyes and kingly demeanor was a good man, who just did everything he could to hide his true feelings from the world.
That’s what she wanted to believe – but that didn’t mean it was true.
She’d been burned enough times to know that what you wanted to believe was inside someone, and what was truly there…were sometimes two very different things.
Silence stung the air for what felt like an hour before he finally opened his mouth. “Miss Tutoro, I’m so happy to see you’ve made it back to our fair city unharmed. Please, enlighten me as to why you’ve come home. I’m absolutely dying to know.” His smooth English accent made him sound every bit as snotty as he looked.
Feeling forced to defend herself in a way she wasn’t prepared for; Toni returned his sarcasm with a dash of her own. “As always, Christian, you’re looking lovely this evening. Did Armani make that suit especially for you? It’s simply ravishing,” she quipped, trying to mimic his accent.
It didn’t mix well with the Spanish hint she already had.
She tried not to smile when she heard Drake snort, but she couldn’t help it. She knew she should be nice, knew Christian Locke held everything she wanted in his fancy little manicured hands, but something about the smug, holier-than-thou look on his face just screamed for her to do everything in her power to annoy him.
“Do you find my suit unacceptable?” His sharp tone practically dared her to respond.
“Well, since you asked,” she said as she took a step back and gave him an obvious once over, “you might wanna tell him to keep his eye on the scissors. Your right sleeve looks a tad longer than your left.”
He didn’t react. Instead, he continued to stare at her with glaring disinterest. She thought she remembered how unsettling that stare was, but she was wrong. It made her feel icky all the way down to her toes this time. Last time it was only to her knees.
But she just…couldn’t…stop. “Oh wait, that’s right.” She waved a hand at him. “It’s all coming back to me now. It’s you that’s off. Your right arm’s just a little longer than your left, isn’t it?” She blew out a sigh then offered him her most sympathetic smile. “We can’t all be perfect, can we?”
“Miss Tutoro, it would seem to me if one was seeking solace in a city they’d already been thrown out of once, one would adopt a little more humble attitude. Wouldn’t you agree?” The new, much darker edge to his voice sent fear tap dancing down her spine.
Toni sucked in a deep breath and slowly nodded. He was right. He was the only one who could give her permission to stay in Chicago, and here she was, treating him like crap.
She looked back up at him, hoping he could hear the truth in every word she was about to say. “I just wanted to come home, Christian. I’ve been driving around the country, trying to find a place that feels right. I’ve been in more cities than I can count, and I still haven’t found one that feels like home.” She struggled to keep her voice steady. “I’m not here to cause trouble, I swear. I just wanna see faces that actually smile at me again. I wanna sleep a full day without nightmares.” She turned away when she lost the battle against her tears.
How could she explain what Chicago meant to her? How much she needed to be home?
After a few moments passed, Toni wiped her cheeks and cleared her throat. She had to make him understand. But as she turned to face him again, a feeling of doom settled deep into the pit of her stomach.
He seemed to be watching her with an odd, detached curiosity.
Wanting desperately to believe she could reach him, she forced herself to continue. “This city stays with me wherever I go. I was born here, and for every awful memory I have here, there are still fifty good ones.” She lowered her eyes when his face didn’t change. “I don’t know what I was thinking…you wouldn’t understand.”
“Have you secured yourself a place to stay? I know you haven’t purchased any homes or leased an apartment. There are also no reservations for you or any of your aliases at any hotel in the city.”
Toni surrendered with a spiteful laugh. He hadn’t changed at all. “No, Christian, I haven’t broken your rules by making any permanent arrangements. I have my car. That’s it.” She narrowed her eyes when a look of pure amusement swept across his face, instantly churning her doomed feeling into seething anger. “Look, if you’re gonna throw me out or kill me, could you get on with it already? It’s getting late and I don’t have much time to run before the sun comes up. You’re at least gonna be a good sport about this, right?”
His sharp features took on the texture of concrete. “I will arrange for you to stay in a suite at my hotel. When you arrive in the lobby, give the desk clerk your name and he’ll take care of your needs.” One of his brows rose slightly as his eyes moved over her. “I’ll also have him make a few calls in order to procure you an article of clothing more befitting a woman. I expect you dressed appropriately when you arrive at my office tomorrow evening, where we’ll finish discussing your official request to stay in my city. Be there at Midnight, not a second later.”
It took everything Toni had not to look down at the sidewalk to see if her jaw had landed on one of his expensive Italian shoes. What did he say? Was she still sleeping?
Was she really in Chicago?
She barely registered the weight lift from her body as Christian’s gaze shifted up to Drake, who at some point during the conversation had moved to stand behind her.
“Mr. Black, it’s a pleasure as always,” he said as he extended a hand, which Drake easily accepted. “Since it would appear my Head of Enforcement felt so comfortable leaving Miss Tutoro in your capable hands, you’ll understand if I ask that you remain with her for now. Unfortunately, I have it on good authority that once Brick and 8-Ball finish sanitizing the scene on Rush Street, they’re going to find themselves otherwise occupied for a time.”
Toni stiffened at his words. “Christian, please don’t hurt them. I’m the one who called 8-Ball. He warned me not to come, but I didn’t listen. If you’re gonna punish someone, punish me. It’s my fault. They don’t deserve to get…” Her words faded into mumbles as Drake’s big hand clamped tight over her mouth.
“I’ll stay with her, Lord Locke. It’s not a problem.”
When the monster inside her thrashed and growled, Toni committed to the only action that blind instinct would allow – she sank her teeth into one of Drake’s meaty fingers.
“Ouch!” He ripped is hand away from her mouth. “I can’t believe you just fucking bit me! I should’ve known better.”
She whipped around to face him and jammed a finger into his chest. “Don’t you ever try to silence me again! Brick and 8-Ball are my friends, and I don’t wanna see anything happen to them. And I’d rather be put in the sun for five seconds because I said too much, than stand here knowing they might end up with some punishment they don’t deserve. I don’t even know you that well, but if Christian tried to pin you as an accessory to this whole, awful situation just because you’re standing here with me, I’d do the same for you!”
He couldn’t have looked any more shocked if she’d hoisted her leg up and kicked him in the junk. “You’d endure a Trial By Sun, for me? Lady, you don’t even know me.”
“I may not know you, but so far all you’ve tried to do is help.” She withdrew her hand. “You didn’t have to offer to stay with me so 8-Ball could go with Brick, but you did, and I appreciate that. It means a lot more to me than you’ll ever know.” She turned away from him as the stupid tears she’d been fighting all night welled up yet again. “I’d do anything for my friends. So just keep your big hands away from my mouth and we should be fine.”
Toni drew a deep breath in an attempt to pull her scrambled emotions together, then eyed Christian, who had a smile she could only describe as evil stretched all the way across his face. “What the hell are you smiling at now?”
He actually laughed at her. “Nothing, Miss Tutoro. Nothing at all.”
She fisted her hands. “Please, just promise me you won’t hurt them.”
“I have absolutely no intention of hurting them. After all, it does me no good if my Enforcement Team is out of commission.” If it was possible, his smile turned even more malicious at the edges. “However, I’m sure they’ll wish I had offered a physical punishment by the time I finish speaking with them about the disrespectful practice of keeping secrets from their Lord. If I remember correctly, don’t those of the Warrior lineage just love a good, long lecture?”
When Drake’s loud laughter boomed behind her, Toni had to smile. If there was one punishment she knew 8-Ball hated, it was some Trump giving him the verbal what-for. He’d always complained that Trumps had a bad habit of using words bigger than their egos, which as far as he could tell, no board room could hold without serious structural damage.
Not that 8-Ball was really one to talk when it came to huge egos, but she’d gladly take him and Brick being on the business end of a lecture over the possible alternatives any day.
“Now, Miss Tutoro, if you would kindly excuse me, I have other pressing business this evening. And please, do find yourself a coat. It’s far too cold to be out in the city without one. Actions as such make the humans look twice.” He gave a curt nod before he turned and walked back to his car. “Oh, and Mr. Black,” he called as he slid into the backseat, “please see to it that your charge arrives at my hotel within the hour.” He’d no more than finished his request before the door closed and his car was gone.
Toni watched as the glowing red taillights of the Lord of Chicago’s white Mercedes quickly faded in the distance. What the hell had just happened?
You’ve entered the Twilight Zone, that’s what just happened. She nodded in response to the voice in her mind. The last courtesy she’d expected when Locke had stepped out of his car was the offer of a meeting and a suite at his hotel. A swift kick in the behind and a warning to be out before sunrise, most definitely, especially since that was the response she’d gotten from the Lords of other cities as soon as she told them her name. But a warm place to stay without the threat of being hunted by the Enforcement Team…not even close.
Now, if she could only keep her mouth under control at the meeting…
She turned and looked up at Drake at the thought. Apparently, the meeting wasn’t the only place she needed to keep her mouth to herself.
She rested a hand on his forearm. “I’m sorry I bit you.”
He wrinkled his nose like a five year old and made a production of rubbing his booboo. “Me, too.”
“Oh, please.” She grabbed the offended hand and pressed a kiss to the wounded finger that had probably healed the second he’d removed it from her mouth. “There. All better.”
He jerked his arm back as though she’d touched him with an open flame. “Don’t do that.” The pain in his eyes deepened right before that invisible curtain slammed back into place. He flashed a smile that wasn’t true. “The last place my fingers need to be is anywhere near your mouth. You’ve already proven you’re a biter.”
Toni mirrored his false smile, even though what she wanted to do was ask why he kept trying to be someone else. But then, she knew all too well what it felt like not to be happy with who you were. She’d felt that way for the last three years, and to this day, she’d give anything to go back to who she was before. Back to a time when her life consisted of more than running to stay alive, back to before one night and a few bad decisions changed everything.
She stared down at his hand. “If I hurt you, Drake, I really am sorry.”
A long moment of silence stretched between them before he asked, “Can I ask you a question?”
She nodded, but couldn’t quite meet his eyes. “Sure.”
“Why do you apologize so much?”
“Because…” She bit at the inside of her bottom lip then cleared her throat. “Because I promised myself a long time ago that I’d never waste a chance to tell someone how I really feel. That I’d never walk away from someone I knew I’d hurt without telling them I was sorry…even if they couldn’t hear me.”
“Well,” he sighed, his voice seemingly filled with the same regret she felt. He rested a warm hand on her shoulder, sending a shiver down her spine. “Even though my finger will probably get all infected now and swell up like a bloated corpse, I want you to know that I’ll probably forgive you someday.” He slid his hand down her arm and squeezed her fingers tight. “But today’s not your day…and tomorrow ain’t lookin’ too good either.”
She ripped her hand away from him when he burst into a loud fit of laughter. “Oh my God!” She grabbed a fistful of his long hair then yanked his face down to her level. “What’s wrong with you? Why would you say something like that to me? What did I ever do to you?”
“Ow, ow, ow. You’re hurting me. Say you’re sorry! Say you’re sorry!”
She tugged hard on his hair again, but this time all she could do was laugh at the exaggerated way he bent at the waist and contorted sideways as his face scrunched up. “You’re just not right.”
He flashed the most beautiful, most genuine smile she’d ever seen. “Yeah, but now you’re laughing.”
She slowly released her hold on his hair, noticing for the first time how soft the dark strands felt as they slipped between her fingers. She couldn’t remember the last time someone had tried to make her laugh. Couldn’t recall, aside from 8-Ball and Brick, the last time she’d been touched by a vampire who wasn’t trying to kill her.
She looked up at Drake, watching the way his eyes seemed to lighten a little more every second he stared back at her, until not even a trace of the sadness remained. Where the darkness had gone or why, she didn’t know, but she’d been alone and unwanted for so long that she wasn’t sure whether to smile because he made her feel so good, or cry because she knew she didn’t deserve it.
You don’t deserve it. Toni swallowed the jagged knot tightening her throat and backed away from the man who had no idea what kind of monster he stood so close to. “We should probably head for Locke’s hotel.” She tucked her hair behind her ears as the frigid wind picked up around them. “When we get there, I’ll see if I can find someone who knows him. Maybe I can get his number and talk him into letting you go. I’m sure you’ve got better things to do than be stuck with someone like me. Someone you don’t even know.”
“Oh. Hell. No.” He folded his arms over his chest while that adorable, lopsided grin from earlier reformed on his lips. “I’m not going to the hotel yet. I’m not moving an inch until you say it.”
She blinked at him. “Say what?”
“Say what?” His mouth gaped open like a suffocating fish. “I want you to say you’re sorry for pulling my hair. I want you to say you’re sorry for almost snapping my spine in two.” He scuffed one of his big black boots against the sidewalk. “There’s ice down there, ya know. I almost fell, and I don’t have health insurance yet.”
“Are you serious?”
“Yes. I want an apology.”
She moved to stand in front of him again. “I’m sorry that I bit you. I’m sorry that I pulled your hair. And I’m sorry if I hurt you, because that’s not what I wanted.” She tipped her head back and stared into his eyes. “And I’m sorry that the longer you’re around me, the more I’ll have to say I’m sorry…because I will hurt you again. I’m sorry Brick and 8-Ball had to leave. I’m sorry you got stuck with me. And I’m sorry that I couldn’t be in this city for more than an hour without fucking everything up again. You have no idea just how sorry I am. But I promise I’ll do everything I can to get Christian to let you go. Now, can we go to the hotel?”
“Wow.” His blue eyes widened as he inhaled a deep breath. “When you Warriors swing…you really go for the fences don’t you? And then that fence, and that one, then the one over there, then you run back to where you started and do it all over again.” He shook his head. “Truthfully, I don’t know how you do it, because I’m getting tired just watching you.”
Toni gave in to the light tugging sensation at the corners of her mouth when Drake started laughing again. Deep and damningly contagious, the rich sound rolled over her in a soothing wave, making the air feel just a little bit warmer, a little less empty.
“I have an idea.” He rubbed his hands together then blew a breath between them. “How ‘bout you pick a mood and stick with it for five minutes, I’ll worry about what I’m getting myself into, and we’ll head to the hotel where they have this great invention called heat.”
She studied him for a minute, watching the steady rise and fall of his chest as he breathed, the way each breath that slipped past his lips became a burst of steam as it mingled with the cold air, and how his tongue darted out every so often to moisten those lips.
Everything about him was human…
And from what she could tell, he didn’t even try. He didn’t stop to concentrate every few minutes. Didn’t appear to give as much as a second thought to the human functions he maintained. He imitated life with perfection, down to the very last detail, as though he’d never lost it.
She bit down hard on the inside of her cheek as jealousy tingled through her again. He was right. She seriously needed to get her emotions under control. She’d already bitten the poor guy once because she’d let the beast get the better of her, the least she could do was pick one fence to swing at. Besides, how much damage could she do to him in less than 24 hours?
About Jennifer Turner
Jennifer Turner lives in Bowling Green, Ohio, with her husband, twelve year old daughter and two cats. She regularly claims one of the aforementioned takes far more work than the others to maintain – but she won’t share which one. She’s the middle child between two brothers, and the favorite child of her parents. Of course, that’s always subject to opinion. Jennifer began her writing career as a self-published romance author, but is now represented by Robert Gottlieb, Chairman of Trident Media Group.