Marry Me, Maddie


Marry Me, Maddie

Book 1 of the Bachelor Pact Series

Marry Me, Maddie

Maddie Summers is tired of waiting. To force her fiancé into making a decision, she takes him on a talk show and gives him a choice: Marry me, Or Move On.

The fumbling line he gives her makes her realize it’s time to kick him to the curb and get on with her life – and her search for a man.

But Maddie’s two overprotective brothers are terrified of Maddie being footloose and fancy free – and available. Desperate, they coerce their best friend Chase Holloway, who is like a brother to them and to Maddie, to protect their little sister.

Chase is the only man they trust, the only man who can keep Maddie from jumping into bed with a stranger.

Only babysitting Maddie becomes impossible when Chase suddenly realizes that little Maddie is not the knock-kneed kid sister he’d grown up with, but a knockout lady! A sexy one he can’t resist climbing in bed with himself.

But Chase must keep their romantic entanglement – and their secret trysts in the closet — from Maddie’s brothers or they’ll kill him.

Still, when the competition for her hand heats up, Chase must risk destroying his friendship with Maddie’s brothers by admitting his real feelings toward her, or risk losing Maddie forever…

4 Stars!”Marry Me, Maddie is a charming, humorous and flat-out fun ready.” ~ Jill Smith, Romantic Times

“Rita Herron’s lovable, laughable style…will keep the reader in stitches.” ~ C. Penn, WordWeaving

“Get set for an entertaining read with a lively set of characters.” ~ Scribes World Reviews

Cold Case at Camden Crossing


Cold Case at Camden Crossing

Book 3 of the Cold Case Series

Cold Case at Camden Crossing


People in town believe Tawny-Lynn Boulder is the only reason the Camden Cross case went unsolved. She survived the bus accident that left several dead and two missing, but the severe trauma left her with amnesia. So when she returns to her family’s ranch after seven years, Sheriff Chaz Camden presses her to help locate the girls who were never found—including his own sister. But someone in town is threatening to kill Tawny-Lynn to keep the case closed. Now she must trust that the sexy sheriff she once loved will protect her and show this murderer that in Camden, accidents don’t happen…justice does.

Unbreakable Bond


Unbreakable Bond

Guardian Angel Investigations Series

Unbreakable Bond

For eight years Nina Nash has been told it’s time she moved past the night that changed her life forever. But the sounds of her baby’s cries at night—and the intense feeling that her little girl is still alive when she’s been led to believe otherwise—remain. Only, no one accepts her claims…except the one man who’s determined to help her uncover the truth.

Investigator Slade Blackburn takes Nina’s case, hoping to finally give her some closure. But what she really needs is someone to trust, someone to protect her…someone to erase the sadness from her beautiful blue eyes. Their search for answers turns dangerous, and Slade vows he’ll stop at nothing to ensure her survival—and reunite her with the child she knows is still out there.

Finding missing children was the only thing that kept Slade Blackburn going. The only thing that kept him from giving into the booze that promised sweet relief and numbness from the pain of his failures.

That was, when he found the children alive.

The other times…well, he locked those away in some distant part of his mind to deal with later. Much, much later when he was alone at night, and the loneliness consumed him and reminded him that he didn’t have a soul in the world who gave a damn if he lived or died.

Voices echoed through the downstairs as the agents at Guardian Angel Investigations entered the old house Gage McDermont had converted into a business and began to climb the stairs.

Slade’s instincts kicked in. He’d arrived early, situated himself to face the doorway in the conference room so he could study each man as he entered.

Not that he hadn’t done his research.

Gage had started the agency in Sanctuary and recruited an impressive team of agents.

The moment Slade had read about GAI in the paper, he’d phoned Gage and asked to sign on. Leaving his stint in the military had left him wired and honed for action, yet the confines of the FBI or a police department had grated on his newfound freedom.

Too long he’d taken orders, followed commands. Now he was his own man and wanted no one to watch over, not as he’d had to do with his combat unit.

But he needed a case.


Being alone, listening to the deafening quiet of the mountains, remembering the horrific events he’d seen, was wreaking havoc on his sanity.

He refused to be one of those soldiers who returned from war damaged and suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome.

He would not fall apart and become needy, dammit.

And he would keep the nightmares at bay.

By God, he’d survived his childhood and Iraq, and he wouldn’t go down now.

Still, returning to the small town of Sanctuary, North Carolina, held its own kind of haunts, and when he’d passed by Magnolia Manor, the orphanage where his mother had dropped him off without looking back, he’d questioned his decision to settle in the town.

Gage McDermont strode in and took the head seat behind the long conference table while the others filed in. Slade maintained his stoic expression, honing his self-control.

Gage gestured toward Slade. “This is Slade Blackburn,” he said. “He just finished his first case and returned Carmel Foster’s runaway daughter to her.”

The men surrounding the table nodded, then Gage gestured to each of them as he made the introductions. Slade analyzed each one in turn.

Benjamin Camp, a dirty-blond-haired computer expert with green eyes. Brilliant techy, he’d heard. Slade would bet he had a shady past. Maybe a former criminal with skills that could come in handy in a pinch.

Levi Stallings, former FBI profiler, black hair, military-style haircut, dark brown eyes. Intense, a man who studied behaviors and got into a killer’s mind. He cut his gaze toward Slade as if dissecting him under his microscope, and Slade forced himself not to react, to meet him with an equally hard stare.

First rule of engaging with the enemy: Never let on that you’re afraid or intimidated.

Not that he was, but he didn’t like anyone messing with his mind or getting too close.

Adopting his poker face, he angled his head to study the man, seated next to him, whom Gage introduced as Brock Running Deer.

“Running Deer is an expert tracker,” Gage said in acknowledgment.

A skill that would be needed in the dense mountains. He was also big, slightly taller than Slade’s own six feet, had shoulder-length brown hair, auburn eyes and was part Cherokee. He scowled at Slade as if he were permanently angry, but Slade shrugged it off. He hadn’t come here to make friends.

“And this is Derrick McKinney.”

Slade nodded toward him.

Next Gage introduced Caleb Walker, who also looked mixed heritage. He had thick black hair, black eyes, and wore a guarded expression. Gage didn’t elaborate on his particular skill, which made Slade even more curious about the man.

Gage gestured to the last man seated around the table. “This is Colt Mason, a guns and weapon expert.” Slade sized him up. Short, spiked black hair, crystal-blue eyes, sullen and quiet. He had that military look about him, as well, as if he’d stared down death and it hadn’t fazed him. Probably former Special Ops.

The door squeaked open and a petite brunette with hair dangling to her waist and large brown eyes slipped in.

Gage’s face broke into a smile. “This is Amanda Peterson, our newest recruit. Amanda is a forensics specialist, and we’re glad to have her on board.

“Now that we’ve all been introduced, I want to get you up to speed on the latest case and the arrests made in Sanctuary. Brianna Honeycutt, now the wife of Derrick, adopted an infant son when the baby’s mother, Natalie Cummings, was murdered. Our investigation revealed that Natalie learned about a meth lab in town that was connected to the creators of a lab eight years ago, the one that caused the hospital fire and explosion that took dozens and dozens of lives.”

Gage paused and twisted his mouth into a frown. “The police have made several arrests, but locals are up in arms now that they know who was responsible. There’s also been speculation that there might have been more locals involved in the lab. Lawsuits are cropping up each day, and people who lost loved ones are asking questions. Due to the fire and contamination of evidence, there are questions regarding some of those who were presumed dead.”

Slade frowned. “Presumed?”

“Ones whose bodies were never found or identified,” Gage clarified. “Among those were women and children. I expect that we might have some work ahead of us.”

Slade’s blood began to boil. Women and children… who’d died because of some stupid drug lab. Women and children whose bodies had never been identified.

Families with no answers just as his own hadn’t had answers when his older sister had disappeared. Not until Slade had found her in the morgue.

Maybe it was right that he’d come back to Sanctuary. If he had the opportunity to find closure for even one of the families involved, it was worth it.

Then maybe he could finally find peace and forgive himself for his sister’s death.

Nina’s baby’s cry haunted her every day.

Peyton would have been eight years old had she survived, the same age as the children Nina taught at Sanctuary Elementary.

She tried to envision what her daughter would look like now as she watched her students rush to the school bus, squealing and laughing, excited to be out for summer break. Most of the teachers were jumping for joy, as well.

“Freedom at last,” one third-grade teacher said with a laugh.

“Vacation,” another one boasted.

But instead of dreaming about long, lazy days at home or a vacation road trip, tears filled Nina’s eyes.

To her, summer break meant weeks of being without the kids. Long, lonely days and nights of silence. Of no tiny hands reaching out for help, no sweet voices calling her name, no little patter of feet or giggles, no little arms wrapping around her for a big bear hug.

Tortured nights of an empty house and more nightmares of what her life would have been like if her little girl were alive.

For a moment, she allowed herself to dream of taking her daughter to the beach. They’d build sand castles, collect shells, ride bikes. She could almost hear her daughter’s laughter in the wind roaring off the ocean….

The bus driver gave a big honk of its horn, jerking her back to reality. Kids waved and screamed out the window, and the bus roared away. Teachers cheered and waved, laughing and talking about their plans as they dispersed back to their rooms to tidy up for the day.

Nina wrapped her arms around her waist and watched until the last bus disappeared from the school drive, then turned and walked back inside, her chest tight.

She should be over the loss of her daughter, people had told her. “Move on with your life,” her father had insisted. “Let it go,” the ob-gyn had said.

But sometimes at night, she heard her baby’s cries, and she sensed that Peyton was still alive. That she hadn’t died in that fire. That she was out there somewhere, and that she needed her.

Moving on autopilot, she went to her classroom, packed up boxes, wiped down the chalkboard, stripped the bulletin boards and cleaned out her desk.

Finally she couldn’t procrastinate any longer. The empty room was almost as sad and overwhelming as her house. Here she could still see the kids’ cherub faces, hear their chatter and smell their sweet, little bodies.

She stuffed her worn plan book in her favorite tote, one emblazoned with a strawberry on the front and sporting the logo Teachers Are Berry Special, then added a copy of the language arts guide for the new language arts program the county had adopted, threw the tote over her shoulder, flipped off the lights and headed outside.

The late-afternoon sunshine beat down on her as she walked to the parking lot. The sound of engines starting up filled the air, and she noticed a group of teachers gathering for an end-of-the-year celebration.

Celia, her friend from the classroom across the hall from her, looked up and waved as she climbed in her minivan. Celia had invited her to join them, but she’d declined. Celebrating was the last thing on her mind.

Instead she drove to the little bungalow she’d bought in town, picked up the newspaper on the front stoop, then dragged herself inside and poured a glass of sweet iced tea. Hating the silence that engulfed her, she flipped on the television, then glanced at the front page of the paper.

The headlines immediately caught her eye.

Murder of Natalie Cummings and Kidnapping of Her Son Ryan Leads to Answers about the Hospital Explosion and Fire Eight Years Ago.

Nina skimmed the article, her own memories of the explosion taunting her. For years now the town had mourned the lives lost back then. Now they finally had answers.

Police have learned that a meth lab built by local teenagers at the time was the cause of the explosion that killed dozens. Recently Natalie Cummings had overheard students at Sanctuary High discussing a new meth lab nearby, and she was apparently murdered when she connected the current lab to the one eight years ago.

Derrick McKinney, an agent from Guardian Angel Investigations, was instrumental in uncovering the truth about the explosion, the kidnapping and murder connection.

Nina frowned, her heart racing. That night had been horrible. The explosion, the fire, the terrible confusion. The burning bodies.

Her frantic rush to find Peyton…

Her stomach knotted. She’d wondered if her baby might have been confused with another that night, or if she could have been kidnapped in the chaos.

But the investigation had been a mess, and the sheriff had assured her her fears had been unfounded. Even worse, the P.I. she’d hired had been convinced she was just a hysterical mother and had done nothing but take her money.

Still, one question nagged at her. They had never found Peyton’s body.

She glanced at the article again. Guardian Angel Investigations. They specialized in finding missing children.

Her hand shook as she went to the mantel and picked up the photo of her newborn. Peyton had been so tiny Nina had been able to hold her in one hand.

If someone had kidnapped her, how would she have survived?

Still, every night when she crawled into bed, she heard her cries. And every time she closed her eyes, a little angel’s voice sang to her in the night.

Determination and a new wave of hope washed over her as she grabbed her purse. “I’m going to find you, baby.”

If GAI had dug deeply enough to find out who’d caused that fire, maybe they could dig even deeper and find out what had happened to her daughter.

Just as the meeting was about to disperse, the bell on the downstairs door jangled. Gage gestured for the group to wait while he descended the stairs. A minute later, he returned, escorting a young woman with him.

A beautiful blonde with long wavy hair, enormous blue eyes the color of the sky on a clear North Carolina day, and a slim body with plump breasts that strained against her soft, white blouse.

But nothing about the woman indicated she was aware of her beauty.

Instead, those blue eyes looked wary and were filled with the kind of grief and sadness that indicated she’d lived through a hell of her own.

“This is Nina Nash,” Gage said. “She’s interested in our services.”

Gage gestured for her to sit down, and Slade noticed her body trembling slightly as she slid into a leather chair. Why was she on edge?

Was she intimidated by the agents, or in some kind of trouble?

“How can we help you, Miss Nash?” Gage asked.

She bit down on her lower lip and twisted her hands together, glancing at each of them as if to decide whether to continue.

“Just relax and tell us your story,” Gage said in a soothing tone.

She nodded, then jutted up her little chin, took a deep breath and spoke. “I read about your agency in the paper and saw that you found the people responsible for the hospital fire and explosion eight years ago.”

“Yes,” Gage said. “The police made some arrests.”

“I…lost my baby that night,” Nina said in a pained tone. “At least she went missing.”

A hushed silence fell across the room as everyone contemplated her statement. Finally Gage assumed the lead and spoke. “Why don’t you start from the beginning and tell us what happened.”

She rolled her tiny hands into fists as if to hold herself together. “My baby girl was early, a preemie, and I had to have a C-section,” she said as if she’d repeated this story a thousand times already. Then she rushed on as if she had to spit it out or she’d completely crumble. “I was asleep when the sound of the explosion woke me. Everyone started shouting and screaming, and I smelled smoke so I got out of bed and tried to get to the nursery, to Peyton…” Her voice cracked in the deafening silence stretching across the room.

But no one spoke. Her anguish was like a palpable force in the room.

“It was chaos,” she said on a choked breath. “Everyone was screaming, desperate to escape. Patients were struggling and needing help, and an orderly told me to go to the stairwell, but I couldn’t leave my baby so I pushed him away.”

Forbidden Passion


Forbidden Passion

Book 1 in the Demonborn Series

Forbidden Passion


Fueled by her family’s murder years ago, Dr. Marlena Bender has devoted her life to understanding violent criminals. But when a serial killer in this small Southern town starts taking the lives of women in diabolical ways—leaving trophies of his kills on Marlena’s doorstep—it all hits too close to home. Terrified, Marlena turns to the only man she can trust…the man who saved her life.


Sheriff Dante Valtrez would move heaven and earth to keep Marlena safe, but he’s not the savior she thinks he is. A dark legacy runs through his blood and a dangerous secret lies within him. Now a fierce, hot, ruthless desire draws Dante and Marlena together—as a demonic force from his past threatens to rip them apart, destroying everything they hold dear.


Fire gave him power. It was his gift. His method of attack. His best defense.

It had also become his obsession.

Thirteen-year-old Dante Zertlav raised his fist to stare at his reddening fingertips. The urge to throw a fireball ripped through him, evil beckoning.

“Don’t fight your dark side,” Father Gio commanded. “Embrace it and you can rule the world.”

Dante nodded. He’d known this day was coming, the final test for him and his band of demonic brothers. The elements were all here now, Storm and Lightfoot preparing for their own initiation.

So far, Dante had passed the initiation with flying colors. He’d tracked the animals, killed them with his bare hands. Done everything Father Gio had ordered, no matter how vile.

He’d learned long ago that disobeying Father Gio meant harsh punishments. Torture.

Being turned into the hunted instead.

But today, the last and final test would be to kill a human.

A sickening knot gripped his belly.

He didn’t know if he could do it.

A maelstrom of ancient chants and sinister voices surrounded him as the other demons gathered. Smoke curled from the fire pit, and twigs and wood snapped and crackled, shooting flames against the inky sky.

Father Gio gestured through the woods, and Dante spotted a woman and a dark-haired little girl hunched by their own small campfire roasting marshmallows. A smaller blond girl sat swinging her bare feet into the gurgling creek water.

“Your assignment is to kill the youngest one, and offer her to Helzebar.”

Dante stiffened. Although he’d been banned from attending school with mortals, he’d snuck by the schoolyards to watch. One memory struck him hard and had stuck with him.

A bully of a boy had chased a puppy into a storm drain, and this little blond had wriggled inside and rescued the animal. When she’d climbed out, she was filthy, her hair tangled, her knees scraped, but she’d scooped up the pudgy dog and sang to it like an angel.

Until that day, he’d only known demons and violence.

He’d been so enthralled that afternoon that he’d followed her home, had watched her mother laugh at the sight of the puppy. Then the little blond and her sister had played with the dog in a field of wildflowers until they’d both collapsed in a fit of giggles.

He’d envied their laughter. Their innocence.

Their happy family.

They had no idea demons lurked in the woods of Mysteria, Tennessee. No idea the demons had decided to hunt humans in their own backyards.

“Storm will take the oldest girl, Lightfoot, the woman.” Father Gio placed a clawlike hand on Dante’s shoulder, drawing him back to the present. “But yours will be the biggest sacrifice for you are meant for great things.”

Pride mushroomed in his chest. But anxiety tightened his breath at the same time. He had embraced the darkness within him, had enjoyed the hunt, the taste of the animals’ blood, the screech of the kill.

He liked pleasing his master.

But something about taking this young girl’s life felt… wrong, and needled at his conscience.

A conscience he thought he’d buried long ago.

Suddenly a roar of thunder rent the air, the collective hiss of the demons’ war cries erupting, and Storm and Lightfoot charged toward their prey. The dark-haired girl cried out in terror.

“Run!” the mother cried as she shoved her daughters into the woods.

Both girls screamed as they stumbled over broken logs and brush in their haste to escape. But Storm and Lightfoot’s human forms shimmered into monsters as they attacked.

Storm swept the mother up by her hair and flung her across the woods, her body bouncing off a boulder a few feet away. Blood spurted from her forehead as she tried to get up, but her leg was twisted, broken, and she collapsed with a sob as Storm jumped her again. Lightfoot caught the dark-haired girl and swept her up as if she was air itself.

The little blond ducked behind an overhang on the ridge, eyes widening in horror as she stared at the grisly scene.

Indecision ripped through Dante. If he disobeyed, he would be ostracized from the only family he’d ever known.

How would he survive out here all alone? The demons would eat him alive…

Then the little girl spotted him. “Help me. Please help me.”

Pain squeezed his lungs at her haunted whisper. She was so tiny, so young. How could he squash the life out of her?

He couldn’t.

Tamping down the fire heating his fingers, he ran toward her, threw her over his back, then raced through the woods, adrenaline churning as the demons gave chase.

Behind him, the thunderous roar of the demons cheering Storm and Lightfoot rent the air, then Father Gio’s voice commanding him to bring the girl back.

But the frail girl clung to him, burying her head against his shoulder, and protective instincts surged inside him. The fiery breath of one of the demons stung his back, but he flung fireballs at the demon, warding them off as he raced through the forest.

Finally he reached a clearing and spotted a dingy white church on top of the hill. He’d never been inside a church and wondered if lightning would strike him if he entered. But it was the only safe place for the girl, so he dashed up to the doorway, shoved it open, and slipped inside.

The scent of burning candles filled the air, and a rainbow of vibrant colors illuminated the room from the stained-glass window above the pulpit, a calm peacefulness enveloping the chapel.

The little girl whimpered, and he carried her to the front pew and placed her on it.

“Wh… o are y… ou?” she whispered.

“My name is Dante,” he said softly. “What’s your name?”

Her lip trembled. “Marlena…”

“You’ll be safe here, Marlena. Just stay inside.”

Tears streaked her face as she reached for him. “I’m scared… Don’t leave me.”

The wooden floor creaked, jerking his attention to the pulpit, and a priest wearing a long robe appeared from the back. His intense gaze pinned Dante, as if he could see into his black soul.

Regret and sorrow for all he’d done bled through Dante. But he didn’t belong here, not in this holy place.

He cupped the little girl’s face between his hands to quiet her. “You’ll be all right now,” he said, then lowered his head and pressed a kiss in her blond curls. She smelled of sweetness and innocence, things he’d never known. “The priest will take care of you.”

Her lower lip quivered, tearing at him, but the earth shook and rumbled, the demons roared outside, and he knew he had to leave.

She was safer far away from him.

So he turned and fled through the doorway.

But as he stepped outside, the demons’ angry chants echoed from the forest. He couldn’t go back to Father Gio. He didn’t belong with the demons.

He didn’t want to be evil anymore.

But he wasn’t good either, and he didn’t belong with the humans.

He had to make his own path. Pay penitence for his sins before he lost his soul completely.

Chapter One


Evil has no rules. It always wins.

That creed had been beaten into Dante as a child. And when the portals from the underground to the Earth had opened on All Hallows’ Eve three months ago, the pull of evil had grown stronger.

The very reason he’d returned to Mysteria. The reason he’d become sheriff.

His penance was to protect the town from his own kind.

And part of that job meant checking the underground tunnels where the demons thrived.

But as he strode through the tunnels, the darkness called to him like a siren begging him to her bed. Hard to resist.

The evil gave him great power in his hands, fueled his firestarter abilities.

It also threatened to turn him into a monster as it had his demon brothers years ago.

The scent of impending death and doom hovered in the dank air. Somewhere in the cavern, he detected a shapeshifter nearby. He heard the hiss of fangs snapping. The cry of an animal drawing its last breath.

Ever since the new lord of the underworld Zion had risen, Dante had noted more widespread chaos and violence across the States.

He’d heard that new demon factions had formed, making plans, honing their powers to please Zion, the most notorious leader of the underworld ever known. Some said Zion was a direct descendant of Satan.

Father Gio was probably working for him now.

Dante’s gut tightened. He’d have to confront him eventually. Destroy him if he returned and began preying on the town.

Dante’s cell phone buzzed, and he glanced at the number, his hand tightening around the phone. His deputy, Hobbs.

A man he didn’t trust. Then again, he didn’t trust anyone.


“Sheriff, that doctor lady named Marlena Bender phoned again to see if there were any leads on those missing blood vials from BloodCore.”

Dante gritted his teeth. He’d seen the file on his desk and had been shocked to learn that she’d moved back to Mysteria.

Just as he had to face Father Gio, he had to face her. But not yet.

“I’ll call her when I get time,” Dante said. After all, a few missing vials of blood could wait.

The demons in the darkness posed a more imminent danger.

Marlena Bender forced herself to walk through the cemetery to her mother and sister’s graves. Gravel and dead leaves crunched beneath her shoes, the shadows of the ancient burial ground eerie in the waning moonlight. Dead flowers and faded plastic arrangements swayed and drooped beneath the elements, and dry parched grass bled between the rows of dirt-covered graves. A fresh mound a few rows over made her chest clench and stirred memories of the last time she’d stood here, burying her own family.

Images of the horrible night they’d died taunted her. Her mother and sister’s screams echoed in her ears and suddenly a shimmering light sparkled in a hazy glow as if their spirits had appeared.

She blinked, shivering at the thought, the winter wind biting through her as it whipped leaves and twigs around her ankles. Moonlight glinted off the granite tombstones highlighting their names and the date their lives had ended.

Beloved mother and sister—gone too soon.

Lost to a horrible fate.

But she had survived. Not for the first time, she’d questioned why she’d been saved.

And the man—the boy—who had rescued her.

Just the thought of seeing Dante Zertlav made her chest clench with anxiety.

Although he’d saved her life, questions plagued her. What had he been doing in those woods? How had he been able to run so fast?

And who had attacked and killed her mother and sister?

Had they been monsters as she remembered, or had her childhood imagination simply played a trick on her mind as the doctors who’d treated her had suggested?

She’d wanted to talk to Dante back then to find out what he’d seen, but she’d been too traumatized, and her grandmother had whisked her out of town as if the devil had been on their tails.

She’d been shocked to learn that he was the sheriff when she’d moved back to Mysteria.

She’d phoned three times this week asking if he had leads on the missing blood vials.

Apparently he wasn’t concerned.

But she was.

The missing vials held blood samples from violent criminals, individuals who professed to have paranormal powers, and the mentally and criminally insane.

One day she hoped to find a genetic abnormality that could be altered to correct deviant behavior and deter violent tendencies.

Recently she’d noted disturbing markers in some samples that made her wonder if the monsters she’d thought she’d seen as a child were real, not figments of her childhood imagination.

That was one of the reasons she’d moved back to Mysteria. Her nightmares had grown more intense lately. She had to confront her past in order to move on.

She bent and spread the rose petals across her mother’s grave, then her sister’s. “I have to know the truth about who killed you.”

And why the police had never found answers.

The ground suddenly felt as if it shifted beneath her, the dirt sucking at her feet as if the earth might literally suck her into the graves below.

She trembled. Mysteria was full of ghost stories, but she was a doctor, a scientist. She’d never believed in the paranormal.

Except for that day as a child…

But she was an adult now and she could face the truth. There had to be a logical explanation.

And what if her family’s killers had remained in Mysteria all these years?

Had there been other unexplained deaths since?

She’d have to check and see…

Thunder began to rumble, thick black clouds swallowing the moon, and a raindrop splattered her cheek, mingling with the tears she didn’t realize had fallen.

With a gloved hand, she swiped at the moisture, then turned and ran toward her car. Footsteps crunched leaves behind her, and she pivoted and scanned the distance, but the graveyard was empty. Twigs snapped on the opposite side and she jerked her head to the right. An ominous shadow floated behind a grave marker, then disappeared into the woods.

Suddenly sensing danger, she threw the car door open and collapsed inside, trembling. The shadow stood beneath the gnarled branches of a live oak, then spread his arms in a wide arc like some winged creature that had risen from the grave to attack.

God, she was seeing things again. It had to be a man. Or maybe some teenager trying to spook her.

Irritated that he’d succeeded, she started the engine and steered her Honda over the graveled drive, but the car suddenly lurched as if someone or something had pushed her forward.

Nerves on edge, she glanced in the rearview mirror, then over her shoulder, but didn’t see a car—or a person. Nothing.

It’s just the wind, she told herself.

But she felt the shove again and she accelerated, taking the curvy mountain road toward her old homestead so fast that her tires squealed and she skimmed the guardrail twice before she turned up her drive.

A tiny sliver of moonlight fought through the storm clouds and painted the turrets and attic in sharp angles as her Victorian homestead came into view, the swaying branch of an oak clawing at the frost-coated windowpane. The wind roared, seeping through her bones as she grabbed her purse and computer bag, then walked up the pebbled drive toward the wrap-around porch.

An animal howled, and she looked up and spotted a lone wolf silhouetted at the top of the ridge. Fear slithered through her like a poison eating at her as she searched the woods. She’d avoided the forest for years.

But the thick trees and dark secrets surrounded her, whispering that evil hid in the shadows, waiting to prey.

For God’s sake, Marlena. You’re a grown woman. You have to get a grip.

Desperate to shake off her anxiety, she scrubbed a hand through her tangled hair, her keys jingling in her trembling hand as she climbed the porch steps.

She would not give in to the fear. She hated the way it had paralyzed her when she was young.

Before that horrible day, she’d been a daredevil, had thought she was invincible.

But her naïveté had been shattered with her family’s brutal murder.

The wind swirled her hair around her face, but a box on the floor in front of the door caught her eye.

A small silver gift box tied with a big red bow.

Surprised, she picked it up and examined it. There was no card, no address, nothing on the outside to indicate whom it was from.

She unlocked the door and stepped inside, grateful for the blast of heat from the furnace. Yet the floors creaked, the windowpanes rattled, and the old pipes groaned like an aging person’s bones popping.

Shivering, she flipped on a light and opened the box. Surprise flared inside her at the sight of a ring lying on top of the crumpled tissue paper.

Then her heart began to pound, and apprehension tightened her shoulder blades.

A tiny pearl was set in an antique white gold setting with two small diamond chips flanking the sides. She recognized the setting—the ring belonged to Jordie McEnroe, a young waitress at the diner.

Her hand trembled.

The ring was soaked in blood.

The phone in the sheriff’s office was ringing as Dante entered. He glanced around the office for his deputy, then realized Hobbs had probably gone home for the night. Good. He wouldn’t have to deal with the man now. Dante didn’t want help, and Hobbs sure as hell didn’t like working for him. He’d wanted the job as sheriff himself.

In three quick strides, he crossed the wooden floor and grabbed the handset. “Sheriff Zertlav.”

A shaky breath rattled over the line. “Hello, who is this?”

A feminine voice finally squeaked out, “M… arlena Bender.”

He scrubbed a hand over the back of his neck. Hell. He’d wanted to stall longer, but her voice had warbled as if something was wrong. “Listen, Dr. Bender, I know you called about that stolen blood and—”

“It’s Marlena, Dante, so don’t act like you don’t know me. And I’m not calling about the blood this time,” she continued, cutting him off. “I need you to come out to my house.”

His gut tightened. Had the demons already found her? “What’s wrong?”

“I just got home,” she said, “and I found a gift… a box… on my doorstep.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You will when you see it,” Marlena said. “It’s a woman’s ring, and it’s covered in blood.”

Dante frowned. “Blood?”

“Yes, and it’s fresh.”

He made a disgusted sound as his mind churned with the possibilities. “Somebody’s idea of a sick joke?”

“Maybe,” Marlena said. “But it belongs to Jordie McEnroe, the young waitress at the diner. I just saw her yesterday and she was wearing it.”

He rapped his knuckles on the desk, contemplating the situation. Why would someone leave Jordie’s ring, covered in blood, on Marlena’s doorstep?

“What if something’s happened to her, Dante?” Worry laced Marlena’s voice. “You have to check on her.”

“I’ll call the diner and see if she’s there, then come to your place and pick up the ring.” He paused. “And don’t touch it. If there has been a crime, I’ll need to dust it for prints.”

“I know.” Marlena sighed. “I just hope Jordie’s all right.”

“I’ll be there soon.”

A tense second passed. “Dante?”

He cleared his throat, tried to ignore the hint of emotion in her voice. “Yeah?”

“Don’t you need my address?”

He couldn’t admit that he already knew where she lived. That he’d followed her home as a child and watched her. That he’d checked out her house the first night he’d driven back into Mysteria.

“Yes, give it to me.”

She quickly recited it, and he disconnected the call, then punched in the number for the diner. A quick glance at the clock told him it was 9:00 p.m. The dinner rush should be over.

Finally a woman answered. “Roadside Diner. Rosy speaking.”

“This is Sheriff Zertlav. Can you tell me if Jordie McEnroe is there?”

“No, she didn’t show up tonight,” Rosy said. “And her mama is having a fit, too. It’s just not like Jordie to blow off her shift.”

An uneasy feeling slid up Dante’s spine. “Give me her address and I’ll check on her.”

“You think something’s wrong?” Rosy asked, suddenly panicked.

Dammit, he had a bad feeling. “No, just offering to ease Mrs. McEnroe’s mind.”

“Awww, Sheriff, you’re a sweetheart. I know she’ll appreciate that.”

A bitter chuckle escaped him as he hung up. If she knew he was part demon, knew the things he’d done, she sure as hell wouldn’t call him a sweetheart.

Dark shadows flickered off the tall, thick trees as he drove from Main Street toward the mountains. The roads grew curvy, more narrow, the shadows thicker, the silence more ominous. Five miles around the mountain, and he spun up the graveled drive toward Marlena’s.

The hundred-year-old blue Victorian house sat atop a hill, the paint slightly weathered, the sharp turrets and angles reminding him of an old haunted house.

Throwing the SUV into park, he climbed out, pulling his bomber jacket around him to battle the brittle wind as he walked up to the porch. The steps creaked as he climbed them, and the sound of a wolf howling from the woods made him twist his head and scan the edge of her property.

The trees shivered, but if there had been one nearby, it had disappeared.

Bracing himself to see Marlena again, and hoping like hell she’d turned into a geeky adult who would hold no temptation for him, he raised his fist and knocked.

But his lungs tightened when she opened the door.

She was even more beautiful than he could have imagined, a radiant full moon against a blinding sea of night.

From her heavy breasts to her narrow waist to hips that flared enticingly, she painted a picture of seduction. But she was the last woman on earth he could think about taking.

Gritting his teeth, he swallowed back guilt. But even as he fought it, the dark side of him emerged, lust heating his body.

Wavy, blond hair that looked like silk shimmered over her shoulders, and her frightened eyes were still the palest, oddest shade of green he’d ever seen.

He’d never forgotten those eyes. They had been luminous and trusting when she was a child. Now that she was a woman, they could suck a man in with their sensuality and promises.

But horror and sadness had filled them the day of the attack.

And that horror and sadness had taunted him day and night, reminding him of what he was.

She’d been made a homeless child because of his demon family. And if she knew the truth, she’d hate him.

He had washed his hands in her blood.

He was obsessed with it now. The thick, sticky crimson as it flowed from open wounds. The coppery metallic scent as it filled the air.

The tiny splatters that looked like artwork on the walls and his shirt.

Blood was the life force of the body. The river that swept a person along.

The heart and soul that gave life and took it away.

He lifted his fingers and stared at them now. Remembered the woman’s body as she’d jerked and screamed and begged him to stop.

She had had to die.

So did the others.

It was the only way to stop them from becoming like him. A monster. A child of the devil.

A killer who stole lives for pure pleasure and worshipped the evil growing inside him. The evil that gave him strength.

Strength and a power he’d never possessed before.

But he’d had to set the woman on fire to throw off the cops. Couldn’t let them know the real reason she’d had to die.

Besides, Zion had given him his orders. Make it look as if a firestarter had killed the girl.

And leave his trophy with the woman Marlena. The one who’d caused Dante to fail his initiation.

The woman who would have to die so Dante could find his way back to his father.

Insatiable Desire


Insatiable Desire

Book 2 of the Demonborn Series

Insatiable Desire


Plagued by graphic visions and the desperate cries of murder victims, psychic Clarissa King will do anything to stop the brutal killer targeting her hometown — even work alongside the dangerously sexy FBI agent who thinks she’s a fraud. He’s the one man who sparks a hunger she never imagined possible — and the one man she should fear…


Vincent Valtrez knows how to get inside a serial killer’s mind. But with a dangerous past and a secret to keep, he wants nothing to do with this gorgeous psychic — especially since just the thought of her luscious body ignites a dark, irrepressible desire he’s determined to keep at bay. When the killer they seek turns out to be demonic and otherworldly, Vincent learns his connection to the murderer is more than just hunger and prey. Will the darkness inside Vincent claim him…or will he save Clarissa — and himself — from the evil that threatens them both?


Experienced romance suspense author Herron (Under His Skin) kicks off her new series with a bang. FBI agent Vincent Valtrez, the son of a devil and an angel, is a Dark Lord with the potential for great good or great evil. His dead father, Zion, is about to be named the new leader of Hell’s legions, and Pan, god of fear, wants to harvest Vincent’s soul and win Zion’s approval. He lures Vincent back to his hometown by targeting psychic Clarissa King, for whom Vincent has long felt an attraction. Herron manages to strike a balance between the romance bubbling between Vincent and Clarissa and the horror of Pan’s actions. Vincent displays enough self-loathing to make him an interestingly brooding hero, and readers will enjoy the chase after Pan’s earthly agents and Vincent’s struggle with his figurative and literal demons, right up to the obligatory cliffhanger ending. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Chapter One

Twenty years later: six days until the rising

The first fuck was always the best.

Not that Special Agent Vincent Valtrez ever bedded the same woman twice.

No, twice meant they might misconstrue his intentions. Get involved. Expect something from him.

But he had nothing to give.

Sex was sex. An animal’s primal need. The one he fed willingly.

Unlike the evil bubbling inside him that he fought daily.

The motel room’s bedsprings squeaked as he ripped open the woman’s blouse, and he stared at her breasts spilling over the lace. Heat surged through his loins at the way her nipples puckered, begging for attention. A martini at midnight, and she’d easily become putty in his lust-driven hands.

He straddled her, then released the front clasp of her black bra, his cock twitching as her plump breasts filled his hands. Moaning, she traced a finger along his jaw, then dragged his face toward hers and nibbled at his lips. Their tongues danced together, and she slid her foot along the back of his calf, driving him crazy with desire.

Clouds shifted outside, moonlight streaking the room with shards of light, illuminating her flushed face and the splay of her fingers as she tore open his shirt and stroked his chest.

Vincent had felt the evil pulling at him for years, ever since his parents had disappeared. That night he’d been found on the edges of the Black Forest, bruised and beaten, and so traumatized he’d lost his memory.

Although he feared his father had killed his mother …

The woman’s blood-red fingernails clawed his bare skin. A droplet of blood mingled with the sweat, exciting him, blurring the lines in his mind between himself and the killers he hunted.

For an instant the beast inside him reared its head. He imagined sliding his hands around her slender throat, digging his fingers into her larynx until her eyes bulged, watching the life drain from her.

He hissed a breath between clenched teeth, forced himself to pull away. The dark side, the black holes, tugged at him again, trying to take control …

He couldn’t give in to the darkness. He was an FBI agent. Had sworn to save lives, not take them.

Oblivious to his turmoil, she jerked him back to her, took his hand and slid it between her thighs. She was so hot. Wet. Ready.

Raw need swirled through him. With a groan, he shoved the darkness deep inside, then bent and sucked her budded nipple into his mouth. She purred like a hungry cat, then parted her thighs in invitation, arousing him as she cradled his erection. He cupped her mound, pushing aside the edges of her panties to sink his fingers into her damp flesh. Her sigh of pleasure shattered his resistance, and he tore off her bra and underwear, then shoved her skirt up to her waist. A tight skirt that had drawn his eyes to her ass and made him horny as hell when she’d walked into the bar.

His jeans and boxers fell to the floor, socks into the pile. Then the condom-always the protection. He couldn’t chance continuing the Valtrez name with a child.

Growling in anticipation, he shoved her hands above her head, pinning her beneath him as if she was a prisoner of his desires.

She struggled playfully, but her eyes flashed and smoldered as he rubbed his throbbing length against her heat. She licked her lips, then bit his neck, and he groaned again, then flipped her to her stomach. He didn’t like to look at their faces, didn’t want any emotional connection.

His hands skated over her bare shoulders, slid down to massage her butt; then he lifted her to her knees. She braced herself on her hands and moaned, rocking forward, twitching against him.

“I want you inside me, Vincent,” she whispered raggedly. “Take me now.”

The flames of lust grew hotter as his cock stroked her ass, and the tip of his sex teased her center. Sliding in her moist channel a fraction of an inch, then retreating, then back again, taunting them both.

“God, sugar, please …”

He liked it when they begged.

She spread herself for him, and his control snapped, the vision of her offering setting his body aflame. He thrust inside her, ramming her so hard she cried out his name and dug her hands into the sheets, twisting them between those blood-red fingernails. He gripped her hips and began to pound her, deeper, faster, sweat beading on his body as the blood surged through his penis. Her body tightened around him, squeezing, milking his length, and delicious sensations built inside him. Panting, he increased the tempo, closed his eyes, heard her raspy breathing, his own chest heaving as he fought to hold back his orgasm. Pleasure was not an option, but release was imminent.

Another thrust and he tilted her, pressing her back against his chest as he stroked her nipples between his fingers. That sent her spiraling over the edge, and her body quivered, then spasmed around his. Relentlessly he hammered into her as sweat slid down his brow and the sound of their naked bodies slapping together mingled with the wind.

Vincent never lost control.

Except in the throes of his release, and even then, he held on to his emotions. A guttural groan erupted from deep inside him, and he ground himself deeper, biting back a shout as his orgasm spurted into her.

Outside the moon shifted, slid behind the clouds, vanishing completely. A black emptiness crept over the room, beckoning. The wind suddenly roared, rattling the walls, and he tensed, his senses honed, warning him that the devil had risen again to wreak havoc.

A second later, his cell phone jangled from the nightstand, saving him from the awkwardness after.

He released the woman so abruptly she fell forward, still trembling with the aftermath of her release. He tore off the condom and climbed away from her, hating himself. God, what had happened to him back there? He’d imagined killing her.

She caught his arm and tried to pull him back to her. “Don’t answer the phone.”

He had to leave. It was the only way she’d be safe. “Duty calls.”

Her eyelids fluttered wildly, and she ran a finger over his cock, raking a drop of come off the tip and sucking it into her mouth. “But I want you again already.”

“Tell the criminals to take a night off, then,” he growled.

She sighed, but he firmly ignored the disappointment in her eyes, the needy look suggesting that she wanted more than a lay, that she wanted to cuddle, to talk.

Instead, he reached for the phone, silently relaying what he didn’t want to have to say out loud. She was an okay fuck, but anything else was not in the cards. No use telling a lie. She had simply been a momentary reprieve between cases.

She clamped her teeth over her lips, then offered a disappointed smile and reached for that seductive skirt. Still he didn’t make excuses; he simply couldn’t give what he didn’t have.

A heart.

The silhouette of the woman’s skeletal remains swung from the Devil’s Tree in Clarissa King’s front yard.

She shuddered, battling the urge to grab an ax and chop it down. She’d tried that before, but the tree was petrified and held some kind of supernatural power. The moment she cut off a branch, it grew back, yet no grass grew beneath it, and in the winter the moment snow touched the branches, it melted. Mindless screams echoed from the limbs, as well, the screams of the dead who’d died there in centuries past.

The screams of Clarissa’s mother as she’d choked on her last breath in the same tree mingled with the others.

Forcing herself away from the window, she hugged her arms around herself to gather her composure. Night had long ago stolen the last strains of sun from the Tennessee sky, painting the jagged peaks and ridges of the Smokies with ominous shadows. Wind whistled through the pines and scattered spiny needles, dried and brittle from the relentless scorching heat that drained the rivers and creeks, leaving dead fish floating to the surface of the pebbled beds, muddy wells, and watering holes.

The grass and trees were starved for water, brown and cracking now with their suffering, and animals roamed and howled, searching for a meal in the desolate miles and miles of secluded forests.

There were some areas she’d never been because the infamous legends had kept her away. The Black Forest was one of them. Stories claimed that in the Black Forest, sounds of inhuman creatures reigned, half animal, half human-mandrills with human heads, shape-shifters, the unknown.

The few who’d ventured near had seen sightings of predators without faces, floating eyeballs that glowed in the dark, creatures that weren’t human. No light existed inside that forest, no color. And any who entered died a horrific, painful death at the hands of the poisonous plants and mutant creatures that fed on humans.

The whispers of the ghosts imprinted in the land chanted and cried from its depths. And nearby lay the Native American burial ground where screams of lost warriors and war drums reverberated in the death-filled air, where the ground tremored from the force of decades-old stampedes and battle cries.

Clarissa shivered and hurried to latch the screen door of her cabin that jutted over the side of the mountain. Useless, probably. The ratty screen and thin wooden door couldn’t protect her should the demons decide to attack.

The year of the eclipse-the year of death-was upon them.

Night and the full moon had brought them, stirring the devil from the ground, the serpents from the hills, the dead from the graves. Granny King-“Crazy Mazie” some had called her, God rest her soul-had taught her to read the signs. The insufferable heat, as if Hades himself had lit a fire beneath the earth, one to honor his kingdom. The blood-red moon that filled the sky and beckoned the predators to roam. The howl of Satan announcing his time for vengeance.

Yes, her once-safe hometown was full of evil, and no one could stop it until the demons fed their hungry souls with the innocents.

Yet the pleas of the women who’d died this week echoed in her head. She’d told the local sheriff her suspicions, that the deaths were connected.

That they were murders.

He’d wanted to know why she thought they were connected, and she’d had to be honest.

The victims had told her.

At least their spirits had when they’d visited.

Thankfully, Sheriff Waller had known her family and hadn’t laughed but had listened. Her grandmother had had the “gift” of communing with the dead, and so had her mother. Granny King used to read the obits daily over her morning herbal tea and confer with the deceased as if they were long-lost buddies. Everyone in town had thought she was touched in the head. But she’d been right on so many occasions that most folks believed her.

The rest were scared to death of her.

Clarissa’s mother had also been a psychic and an empath, only the constant barrage of needy souls had driven her insane. So insane she’d finally chosen to join them in death … instead of living and raising her daughter.

Bitterness swelled inside Clarissa at the loss, eating at her like a virus. She’d been alone, shunned, gossiped about, even called wretched names and cast away from certain families who thought she, too, was evil.

Her mother had visited Clarissa once after her death, ordered Clarissa to suppress her powers. And she had done so most of her life, trying to be normal.

She was anything but normal.

So she’d returned to the one place a few people accepted her. Back to Eerie.

Staying in her granny’s house seemed to have unleashed the spirits, as if they’d lain in waiting all these years for their friend to return, and she could no longer fight their visits.

Outside, the wind howled, a tree branch scraped the windowpane, and ominous storm clouds hovered with shadowy hands that obliterated the light. Even with the ceiling fan twirling, the oppressive summer heat robbed the air, stirring cobwebs and dust that sparkled in the dark interior like white ashes.

Wulf, the German shepherd mix she’d rescued last year after he’d been hurt in a collapsed mine, suddenly growled, low and deep as if he sensed a threat, too, then trotted to the window and looked outside in search of an intruder.

Anxiety needled her as she contemplated the meeting she faced tomorrow.

Vincent Valtrez was coming to town.

She’d thought about him over the years, had wondered what had happened to him. Both outcasts, her because of her gift, him because of his violent father, they’d formed an odd friendship as kids.

But when she’d offered to see if his mother had passed, had suggested she could talk to her from the grave, he’d called her crazy and pushed her out the door. He told her he never wanted to see her again.

She couldn’t believe he was an FBI agent now. He probably wouldn’t be any more open to her psychic powers now than he had been back then.

She had to talk to him anyway. Convince him to listen. She hadn’t asked for this gift, but she couldn’t deny it, either. Not when others’ lives were at stake. Because this killer wasn’t finished. And she didn’t want the women’s lost souls upon her conscience.

Pan, the god of fear, studied the town of Eerie, his plan taking shape in his demonic mind.

Six days until Zion rose from the dead for the coronation. Six days until their new leader assumed control.

The underworld buzzed with excitement and preparations. Legend told that Zion would be the most evil leader they had ever known, that he showed no mercy upon any soul.

Just as he hadn’t toward his wife and son.

In anticipation of his rising, demons met to plot and scheme, desperate to ingratiate themselves into their new master’s graces and raise themselves from their lowly levels to higher realms within the underground. Others forged secret plans, vying to outbid one another to sit at Zion’s right-hand side.

Pan had burrowed from his lowly chamber and accepted the challenge. A mere minion, punished to the fiery blazes of the lowest level, he had to collect enough souls to impress the new leader.

Seven souls and he would win great favor.

Mere days ago, fellow demons had fought the Twilight Guards, the ones who guarded the realm between mortals and the supernatural world, and had opened a portal for the demons. Pan had orbed through the dark planes of time and space, through the portal, and floated above the town of Eerie. There he’d watched the mortals and had chosen the face of one to borrow for his bidding. A face that no one would suspect hid a demon.

Two women had died at his hands so far.

One touch and he knew their greatest fear.

Then he’d used it to kill them.

Laughter bubbled in his parched throat. But killing the women and stealing their souls was a minor part of the larger picture. He’d specifically pinpointed the town where Vincent Valtrez had been raised, because he knew the local sheriff would call him.

And he’d chosen Clarissa King to taunt with the voices of the dead, because she was Valtrez’s Achilles’ heel.

As a boy, Valtrez had protected her from his father. She would be the perfect means to trap Vincent.

Pan had already pressed his hand to her and knew her greatest fear: that the dead she communed with would drive her insane. He would target her friends for his kills, then use their voices to torment her.

He raised his black palm and began to chant, to summon the demons to torture her:

“I call to you, Spirits far and wide, Rise from the dead To the medium’s side. Let your cries Fill her head So she may join You and the dead.”

If Valtrez still had a weakness for the woman, when she broke, he would try to save her.

Then Pan would turn the Dark Lord and bring him to the new master.


Under His Skin


Under His Skin

Nighthawk Island Series

Under His Skin

He’d been a top-notch cop until a fire forced Parker Kilpatrick out of uniform and into the healing hands of nurse Grace Gardener. Grace’s bedside manner and haunting blue eyes pulled at every protective string in Parker’s body — and threatened to soften his famously gruff facade. Then Grace was attacked, trusting them both into the line of fire. As Parker learned more about Grace’s past, new clues inextricably linked a cold case to the recent violence on Nighthawk Island. Now the enemy had left Parker no choice but to put his beloved job on the line…and break every rule to keep an innocent — and irresistible — woman safe.