Tatyana Petrova bent her head forward and banged her foreheadon the
upper rim of her steering wheel.
"This isn't happening to me," she announced to thequickly chilling
interior of her car. "This is the sort of thingthat happens to stupid,
unprepared women. You see," she explained,"I'm neither stupid nor
unprepared. Therefore, logicdictates that this isn't happening to me."
She reached for her key, confident that her speech wouldmake all the
difference in the world. It turned in the ignition... and a nifty little
click echoed into the car. This wasfollowed by immediate, deafening,
highly discouraging silence.Tatyana growled with disgust and yanked the
uselesskey from the ignition of what had always been the most
incrediblyreliable automotive companion she had ever owned.She loved her
car. From its multi-disc CD player to its in-dashhands-free cell phone,
and even its cup holder that fitperfectly around her favorite cup.
"I have triple A. I have a cell phone. I even know how tochange a damn
tire!" She made an exaggerated sound offrustration. "But of course I
can't get a cell signal in the middleof nowhere because I'm surrounded
by mountains, and Idon't have a flat tire!"
Tatyana sighed, laying her head back on the headrest. Shecast a mean
look at the cell phone on the passenger seat, andthen decided it was
time to end her temper tantrum. She wasa modern gal and she could handle
any crisis. It was just thatshe needed about five minutes of woe-is-me,
PMS-worthydespair before she took action. Scooping up the phone
andshoving it in her bag, she swung herself out of the car andmarched
back to the trunk. After popping it open, she rummagedaround in her gym
bag until she found her sneakers.She traded her heels for them, sliding
her stocking feet easilyinto the Nikes. Granted, it didn't make a
fashion statementwhen she was wearing a designer silk dress in shocking
redthat sparkled with a light dusting of glitter, but she wasn'tabout to
trek up and down mountain roads in spiky leatherstilettos just because
they looked good. It was bad enoughshe had chosen a fringed shawl for a
wrap and was likely tofreeze her butt off by the time she found a
And that wasn't even the worst of it.
No, the worst of it was that her best friend, her confidant,the man she
adored and loved most in the world ... wasgoing to kill her. Possibly
even literally. She sighed as sheslammed the trunk shut, then shivered.
"Happy freakin' New Year!" she cheered to herself, watchingher breath
cloud ominously in the air.
She was supposed to be in Manhattan at one of the swankiestNew Year's
parties in town. The firm she worked for wasnotorious for going all out,
reserving the entire PanoramaGrill, the restaurant at the top of the
building she worked in.There was also the minor technicality that it was
consideredvery bad form by your bosses if you didn't show up at
theyear-end party. Promotions could be gained or lost at thisevent based
solely on appearances.
But was she making a fabulous impression on her bosseslike she was
supposed to? Nooo. Of course not. Here shewas, her car broken
down in the back of beyond with her unhappilyfreezing her cha-chas off,
all for the sake of a be lovedbrother who was going to murder her for
"Dimitre, I love you very much and I know you are worththis, but why in
hell did you have to move to this scenestraight out of
Deliverance? God, I can't see a single lightanywhere." She turned
herself in a complete circle, to noavail. If the skyline around her was
any indication, she wascurrently in a valley and the Catskills
surrounded her withtheir sparsely populated mountain faces. "Well, at
least theroads are paved and I don't hear any banjos in the
distance,"she quipped to herself as she shouldered her purse and beganto
trek off in the direction she'd been headed.
It was really her only choice. Tatyana was closer to whereher brother
lived than the nearest town, so it just made senseto keep going.
"And someone should have warned me about the suckycell phone
reception out here. I can't believe that, with whatI pay for this phone,
I can't even get a signal in an emergency.Now, here I am, a stranded
woman marching down aspooky, remote road with no one to hear me scream.
I'm in adamned plot for a B horror flick!"
Tatyana kept marching down said remote road at full steam,promising an
ignorant Dimitre that he would be very sorry ifhis sister met a gruesome
death by chainsaw. Of course, atthe rate she was talking to herself, and
considering her pres entframe of mind, maybe she'd be picking up her own
If she could only find a hardware store.
"Annali, love, what are you doing?"
Annali waved off the taunting query with a graceful hand,the filmy
material of her blouse fluttering like the petals of alavender orchid
around her wrist. The romantic cuffs at theends of the snug sleeves made
for an incongruous picture asshe leaned over a massive worktable, one
that was clutteredto the very edges with a hundred or more labeled
bottles andpouches filled with all manner of curiosities. Adjoining
tablesheld burners, sinks, a heavy mortar and pestle of marble,and a
network of beakers, flasks, and distillery equipment.She toiled over all
of these while dressed in an outfit spun ofthe finest silk, yet she
hadn't even bothered to don an apronto protect her blouse or skirt.
She was clearly in the middle of something complex. Herright hand was
toying with a strand of pearls at her throat ina rapid, absent gesture,
while the notebook she was scrawlingin was filled nearly corner to
corner with notations byher left hand.
Only half of her hair, a myriad sandy blond tones, remainedswept up into
its original coiffure; the other half wasa tumble of wayward curls that
bounced happily on hershoulders at their parole from the severe upsweep.
She wasmissing one of her shoes, her bare foot swinging in tempo tosome
internal beat only she could hear. She had a smudge ofink on her cheek
that had an eerie Rorschach effect whenstared at too long.
"Stop hovering, Ryce," she scolded as she continued towrite furious
notes without even bothering to look up.
"How long have you been closeted away here, Annali?"Ryce persisted,
looking for clues. There was a half-drunkcup of tea on the table behind
her, but he knew it was longcold. There were no indications as to
whether or not she'deaten. It was par for the course when she worked in
a feverlike this that she'd always forget to eat.
"What day is it?" she countered.
"I've been here since Thursday."
Ryce was not misled.
"Of what bloody week?" he shot back.
She made a little moue with her pretty lips and finallylooked up at him
so she could give him a full-on pout. "Pleasestop pestering me. I'm a
grown woman and I'm quite capableof caring for myself."
"That remains to be seen," Ryce said dryly, reaching outto sweep one of
her slender hands in his, drawing it to hislips in a flutter of soft,
lavender ruffles. He kissed the backof her wrist. "You know, Dimitre
would never forgive me if Iallowed you to starve to death. Come on, let
me take you todinner. Once I've fed you, I promise to leave you be."
"In the middle of all this?" she demanded, clearly aghastat the
suggestion as she swept her free hand over the largework area, the pen
in her fingers almost being flung away inher enthusiasm. "Ryce, you know
very well I can't just getup and abandon things mid-experiment."
"It's nice to know that some things never change."
Annali gasped even as Ryce pivoted around sharply onthe ball of his foot
to face the new voice. The familiar newcomerhad entered via the exterior
conservatory doors, byway of the outlying gardens, and held the knobs,
one in eachhand, as he grinned at their gaping expressions.
Leave it to Annali to recover herself the quickest, Rycethought with
humor as she whipped her hand out of hisgrasp and flew at the fresh
arrival like a beautiful lavenderflamingo, all slim, delicate-looking
arms and legs. She coiledher wrists behind Hunter's neck and drew him
down for anenthusiastic welcome home kiss as he caught her around
theribs. Hunter flushed as her kisses moved to his cheeks withrepeated
enthusiasm. He flicked up brilliant blue eyes to seeRyce smirking at
him, enjoying this display of Annali's affections.Hunter grinned and
gave him a rude hand gesturebehind her back as he bent to kiss her
supple cheek affectionately.
"Blessed be. It's good to see you, Annali," he said warmlywhen she
finally settled back onto her heels.
"Well it's not good to see you," she declared in
contradiction,her Southern accent exaggerated by pique as she reachedout
to slap him smartly on his shoulder in true ScarlettO'Hara style. All
she was missing was a hoopskirt and a fan."You are such a fiend, staying
away so long!"
"Anna," Ryce scolded her from the worktables.
"Well, it's true," Annali said, whipping out one of her infamouspouts.
There was a collective sigh from the men. Itwas very hard to resist
Annali's adorably perfect little pouts.
"I had my reasons, Annie," Hunter said simply, puttingher a little
farther away from himself, trying to ease the discomfortof her little
"I know. But, in the name of the Lady, Hunter, this is theinformation
age! You could have written. A few lousy e-mailshere and there to let us
know you were still alive wouldn'thave killed you."
Hunter glanced up at Ryce in a silent plea. Ryce gave hima meaningful
look and shook his head. Both men knew Annalihad never, and would never,
fully understand the reasonsbehind Hunter's departure so long ago.
Neither wouldshe understand why Hunter had cut himself off from all
contactwith his friends. It had been difficult for Ryce to comprehendas
well; but though he didn't agree with all of Hunter'sreasons, he
respected them. For ten years he'd left Hunter tohis own devices, never
contacting him, as per his wishes.
It was painfully good to see him, Ryce thought as heclasped his arms
behind his back in a casual movement thatbelied the emotions he was
feeling, taking the opportunity tolook over Hunter. His old friend had
changed in many ways.He was as vigorous and sturdy a man as he'd ever
been, in aphysical sense, but time had matured his body, making himseem
far more at ease within the roped musculature of hisbuild. It took
discipline to maintain such a physique. Rycewondered if it was still
Hunter's passions for Thoroughbredsand martial arts that kept him fit
and motivated. A personcould change a great deal in one decade, but Ryce
doubtedthat those essentials had altered. Hunter was born to ride
andfight. His seat on a horse was a phenomenal thing to behold,poetry
between man and beast. His hand-to-hand reactions,the ease of his
uncanny reflexes, and his succinct choices inthe heat of a fight made
him unbelievably valuable at one'sback.
Hunter had also cut his hair. That was a sharp difference.He'd
previously kept the pitch-colored locks long enough totouch his
shoulders, sweeping them into a tail as Ryce himselfdid. Now his hair
was severely shortened, cropped to aperfectly manicured line over the
back of his neck, with onlythe front and top showing a slightly rakish
length that hungin curving spears over his forehead. His eyes, the
remarkablecerulean blue that leapt out at anyone he glanced at, were
notablyless shadowed by pain and grief, and Ryce was glad tosee it. As
for the rest, he could only guess at this juncture.Who knew how time had
treated Hunter? It had treated themall so differently. In fact, it was
time that had compelledRyce to draw Hunter home at last, back into their
fold wherehe truly belonged.
Time and danger.
"Well, anyway," Annali said breezily, "I forgive you. Butonly because I
have so much to tell you and I need to hearabsolutely everything about
you as well."
"Since Ryce is intent on feeding you, pet, why don't weall go out to
eat?" Hunter suggested. "I'm starved, as well asjet-lagged, and I think
dinner and a fresh bed would make allthe difference."
"I don't doubt it," Ryce said at last. "Annali, go and changefor dinner.
Hunter and I will be waiting for you in the frontparlor when you're
"Ryce," Annali used his name as a gentle scold, her fairlavender blue
eyes holding a world of admonishment. "Hunter'sonly just come through
the door. I don't want you harping onhim already, okay?" She spoke with
lightness, but knowingher so well, Ryce knew there was a little bit of
an irrationalfear that if he upset the apple cart, Hunter would just
walkoff again and this time he wouldn't come back for good.
"I'm curious over her definition of harping," Hunterchuckled, an
ungentlemanly reminder that she'd just beenharassing him herself.
Annali turned a speaking glance on Hunter that announcedher pique that
he should make fun at her expense. "I meanit," she sniffed, her tone
like a mother scolding young boys."Both of you behave and be nice."
"Go change, Anna," Ryce persisted, giving her a gentleshove in the
direction of the conservatory exit.
As she left, Hunter turned to close the exterior doors againstthe winter
cold before it destroyed the hothouse atmosphereand endangered some of
Annali's precious plants. By thetime he turned around, Ryce had done the
same with the hallwaydoors. The two men crossed the room, meeting in
themiddle with an enthusiastic handshake and hug.
"It's good to see you, my friend. Blessed be to you," Rycegreeted with
an eagerness no less keen than Annali's beforehe stepped back.
"And you as well," Hunter said with a grin. "Ryce, Annaliis beautiful.
And happy. It's hard to reconcile the woman Ijust saw with the haunted
seventeen-year-old she was when Ileft. Well done, my friend."
"Annali deserves all the credit," Ryce said dismissively."I see you've
picked up a fair bit of Romany in your inflections."He noted this as a
first clue to Hunter's whereaboutsall these years.
"No doubt," Hunter chuckled. "Among others. Whereasthe Queen's English
is sounding surprisingly bastardizedfrom your tongue. Too much time in
New York, I'm thinking."Hunter released Ryce's hand and clasped his
shoulderbriefly. "You look very well. I hope the others are all in
"As well as ever. As you can see"—he gestured to theworkstations
sprawled in the center of the conservatory—"Annaliis a thriving
biochemist and is still the obsessivebotanist. With much success, I
"I'm not surprised at Annali succeeding at anything,"Hunter remarked,
with a visibly strong streak of pride.
"Agreed," Ryce said, taking great comfort in the signs hesaw in Hunter
that told him he'd made the right choice bysummoning him home. The only
thing he would ever regretwas that he hadn't done so much sooner. "Kaia
is buriedknee deep in work at the local hospital, as well as a
freeclinic. She's presently on a short lecture circuit. Dimitre, thenew
witch I told you about, is with her."
"You mean Annali's new love?"
"New and only. Besides you, there was never anyoneelse."
Hunter smiled at that, a whimsical tilting of his lips. "Shehad a young
girl's crush back then. Hero-worship. It lastedonly as long as those
things do. She's thought of me as a bigbrother ever since, just as she
does you." He raised a brow ofinquisition. "I assume you're going to
tell me why Annali'smate is off with Kaia?"
"In time," Ryce agreed. He watched as Hunter turned toinspect some of
Annali's potion bottles. "Lennox is well, butGracelynne is recovering
from a riding accident," he said casually.
That brought Hunter's attention fully back to Ryce, hishandsome face
folding into concern and consternation. "Ariding accident?" Ryce knew
there was no getting aroundthe sharp questions in those intuitive eyes.
"Forgive me,Ryce, but I am trying to wrap my mind around the conceptof
Gracie having a riding accident. She's nearly as good as Iam on
"Of course she is. You can just imagine her embarrassment.A spirited
horse and a low branch was all it took," theEnglishman said
dismissively. "She landed on her rear goodand hard, but she's got
nothing worse than a bruised coccyxand a broken wrist to show for it.
After dinner we will discussit in more detail. Annali was unusually
disturbed seeingGracelynne brought down like that, and I'd prefer we
notthrash it out in front of her. You know how she can be whensomeone
she loves is hurt. Brings up bad memories."
Excerpted from "Hunter" by Jacquelyn Frank. Copyright © 2013 by Jacquelyn Frank. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.