Hard Bitten picks up a few months after Twice Bitten leaves off - Cadogan House has been attacked and the vamps are slowly rebuilding. Of course, things can't just stay quiet, and Merit and Ethan are called into the Mayor's office to discuss a possible vampire attack: Apparently vampires are having "raves" and the violence is escalating. The Mayor wants it handled or he's going to arrest Ethan. Merit starts investigating, and calls in a favor from a friend - Jonah, a vamp from Grey House, and a member of the Red Guard (sort of a secret vampire police). With a little luck, they manage to get into a rave, and witness the evening transform from a quiet interlude into a testosterone-filled frenzy - and they can't figure out why.After a night at the local vampire bar, and another vampire free-for-all, things start adding up: someone's making and selling vampire drugs. Add to that the fact that one of the elite vampire leaders from Europe is visiting Cadogan House to check on things and potentially appoint a replacement for Ethan, and Merit is under a lot of pressure to put an end to the problem.My thoughts: O.O *blinks* O.OHard Bitten blew me away! Although it's a 350 page book, it felt like a short story: I couldn't put it down - I had to keep reading to find out what happened next. Let's just get right to it:Merit and Ethan were hot, hot, hot. I adore Ethan and he really worked at getting Merit back:"No. I will never be far behind you." He tipped up my chin so that I could do nothing else but look back into his eyes. "Do the things you need to do. Learn to be a vampire, to be a warrior, to be the soldier you are capable of being. But consider the possibility that I made a mistake I regret-and that I'll continue to regret that mistake and try to convince you to give me another chance until the earth stops moving."He leaned forward and pressed his lips to my forehead, my heart melting even as my more rational side harbored suspicions."No one said love was easy, Sentinel."~Hard Bitten, page 88*sighs* How can you not love him?We also get plenty of Catcher/Mallory, Jeff, Grampa Chuck, and Lindsey. I was trying to figure out who was my favorite character, but really, I can't choose. Ms. Neill writes fabulous characters that are so well defined that I feel like they're my own friends. There may be a little wrinkle in Catcher and Mallory's world in the form of her magic tutor, Simon; I definitely sensed some tension there. Merit's conversation with her Morgan had me throwing my fist in the air :) I liked getting to know Jonah a little bit better. As the story progressed I liked Jonah more and more, although it seems like his feelings towards Merit may be getting... complicated.We also meet a new adversary, McKettrick. With his "special-ops" team and his desire to get rid of the vampires, I don't think his work is done and I think we'll be seeing him again. He has the potential to be a bad, bad man...I thought the drug storyline was a fresh twist to the vampire genre. I don't think I've seen that used in a vampire story before, and now that I've seen it, I don't know why it hasn't been done before - it's brilliant and potentially terrifying for the humans in Merit's world. I couldn't figure out why they were doing it, so the culprit surprised me. I liked the way the mystery wrapped up in that the bad guy has been outed and justice will be served (I assume). "The reveal" was *a bit* overshadowed by "the event", but I never liked this person and am hoping it's the last we see of the character...And now, for the elephant in the room: The events on page 335/336 left me with my mouth hanging open and gasping for air. I will say this about Ms. Neill - she doesn't shy away from taking risks with her characters! The reason I decided that for me this was a 5-star read? The fact that the author was able to bring such a gut-wrenching reaction from me over the actions of her characters says a lot to me about the book. I was disappointed in the actual "event" itself, but have high hopes that the author knows what she's doing. The last page left me hopeful for Merit's future.In summary, Hard Bitten is another fabulous installment to the Chicago Vampires series. I cannot imagine where Ms. Neil is going to take us next, but I can't wait to find out!While I think you would enjoy Hard Bitten as a stand-alone I wouldn't recommend it. There is so much back story that you're missing out on, and the emotional punch is tenfold if you've got all the pertinent info.