Heart of a Vampire, book 7 by Amber Kallyn
Release: April 26, 2016
After centuries alone, can two vampires accept that sometimes love is worth the risk?
As a Judge, Anca Fieraru’s duty is to eliminate problems for the Magic Council. Her current assignment–find those responsible for the recent slaughters in Moss Creek, Arizona. To track a local vampire traitor and continue the hunt for the supernatural killers she must utilize the one thing guaranteed to give her a necessary edge–her Romani magic. Unfortunately her use of magic and lethal judgment sets her at odds with her new partner, a sexy, stubborn clan vampire. Their fiery clashes remind Anca there’s more to life than holding others at a cold distance.
Doctor Matt Dixon has spent centuries healing others in atonement for his own heinous crimes. Never mind they were committed while fighting the Arcaine monsters that lurk in the dark. After killing those responsible for destroying everything he ever loved, he’s finally found a place of peace in the Moss Creek clan. Until death once more found its way into his life. Ordered to work with the Magic Council’s deadly assassin, he soon realizes there’s an intriguing woman beneath Anca’s icy façade.
After spending centuries unable to trust, both vampires gave up hope long ago. But when Matt and Anca are together, whispers of love intertwine with fate. They must overcome the horrors of the past and learn to trust one another, before the present danger consumes them and all they care for.
A dark stench lay heavy on the forest air. A gray pall discolored normally vivid earth magics. Death had visited this place recently. Quite a lot of it.
And more would likely soon arrive. By her hand.
Anca Fieraru–vampire, and Judge for the Magic Council–slipped silently through the trees. Surrounded by mountains, sunset came extra early here. Evening shadows shifted through branches to camouflage the ground in black and gray patches. The immense forest welcomed Anca as one of its own, bound to nature and the earth’s spirits as she was.
Less than an hour earlier, she’d taken the highway leading out of the nearby sleepy town of Moss Creek. Parked at one of the few scenic overlooks, she snuck into the territory of the local vampire clan. Bypassing massive gates and guard stations along the only road leading to their fortress, Anca instead headed the back way.
The excessive number of guards hiding in the trees didn’t surprise her.
The warriors she silently slipped past radiated age, and power. Like Anca, the weakness brought on by the day was most likely ignorable, especially as the sun sank further toward the jagged peaks on the horizon.
Just one of the many vampire myths she remained glad–even after a handful of centuries–that fact didn’t always follow fiction. How limiting to only prowl at night.
More obstacles attempted to stop her. An inner block fence topped with spikes running through the forest, perhaps their entire property. Two ensnaring protective wards created by a very powerful witch.
The wards would stop most people.
Anca wasn’t most.
She snuck around another hidden sentry. Her senses–and the magics of the forest and the earth–pinpointed his location. A bit later, a glint of metal caught her eye. Another camera. Even a clan as old as this one used electronic security nowadays.
Anca skirted its line of sight and continued on, closer to the stone castle towering less than a mile away now. The fortress was right out of the middle ages. Quite incongruous in these Arizona mountains, but right at home in clan lands.
She stepped lightly, soundlessly.
Lines of earth magic radiated out like glittering threads of an endless spider web. The spirits of the earth danced around Anca, constant companions since her youth long, long ago.
Childlike forms of magic and light, the spirits embodied the powers of the earth. Yet, in this place, they were restless. Like the forest’s magics, a dull, almost filmy sheen of grayness darkened the spirits’ normally colorful hues–the jeweled green of spring leaves, the ruby of fall, the pure glowing white of snow, the golds and purples of a warm sunset.
The spirits brushed against Anca, their touch just a bit heavier than the air, like a warm breeze. They fluttered her dark peasant blouse, rubbed against her jeans, played with the cherished sword at her hip.
The saif, a short curved scimitar, pulsed with power. Her tată’s magic, imbued in the sword he’d forged. The power hummed along Anca’s senses. Attracted the spirit’s curiosity.
She hurried on toward her destination, her passage disturbing nothing, just as her tată had taught her long ago. Her father’s kind eyes–once always laughing before the time of trouble decimated their Romani people–came to mind.
“Romani can flit anywhere without notice.” His booming laugh was a sound she could barely remember. He’d always add with a sly wink, “The patient thief is as a tree whose root runs deep as he waits for the sweet fruit.”
Though she was no thief, Anca continued on, patient and steady until the forest thinned. The castle loomed just ahead.
Her senses tingled at the presence of so many vampires inside the place. Anca moved even more patiently, holding her tată’s words close to her heart.
With flashes in her path, the spirits guided her to a stop near a long row of hedges lining a sprawling garden. Few vampires wandered the twisted, twining flowers, and those remained distant from her path.
The spirits whirled around her and filled the air with blossoming scents from the gardens. A hint of memory tantalized her, a familiar perfume she couldn’t quite place.
A flowery scent from her childhood.
Romanian peonies? Flowers known to grow only around the mountains from her childhood home. Why would they have such rare blooms here in this place?
With light nudges on her shoulders and tugs on her hands, the spirits drew her along the hedges, closer still to the castle.
Until a calloused grip fell on her shoulder.
She stopped, slipping a hand to the hilt of her curved short sword. How had she not sensed someone’s approach?
“Hey, there. Don’t think I’ve seen you around. You part of the clan?” A youthful crack in his voice broke the last word.
Instead of drawing her saif, Anca fixed a friendly smile on her face and slowly turned.
Then had to look up, and up.
He was a least a foot taller than her own five-two. Fourteen perhaps when he’d been turned. And only a few years since that event, judging by the small flickers of vampiric crimson in his gray aura. Confirming his youthfulness, the boy’s aura also held brilliant threads of pure white. At his mortal age, he’d been damn lucky to survive the change at all.
Anca’s muscles tightened, vibrating with anger. Her thoughts spun.
She’d been assured the local vampire King was a man of fairness and decency, one who upheld the Laws of the Magic Council.
Including the ancient decree to never turn a child.
So why did he have this vampire?
The kid’s eyes flickered with hints of suspicious worry at her too-long silence. His grip on her shoulder was certainly strong. But nowhere near a threat. Not to her.
Anca widened her smile and struck an innocent pose, even going so far as to pull her long dark braid over her shoulder and twirl it around her fingers as she’d seen mortal teenage girls do.
The kid’s tension fled. He grinned back easily.
“Hello,” Anca said. “I’m here to see Jordan MacDougal.” Believe the innocent look, kid. She didn’t want to have to rough up a child. But she couldn’t risk him spreading the alarm about an intruder on clan grounds.
He let go and stepped back. “A visitor? That’s rare lately with all the extra security Jordan’s been ordering.” He glanced around, a scowl teasing his features. “Why didn’t the guards show you to the castle?”
Still playing with her hair, Anca waved at the trees. “I asked to be allowed to see your beautiful grounds.”
“Oh. I can take you to Jordan then.” He stuck out a hand and stepped closer. “I’m Robby.”
“Hello, Robby.” She ignored his outstretched hand and kept her tone soothing. “If you don’t mind, I’d really prefer to enjoy the forest a bit longer.”
“All right.” He grinned cheerily, as if he had no plans to leave.
Repressing a sigh of aggravation, she watched him watch her. Maybe her innocent act wasn’t working with this one.
“Alone,” she added.
Shadows flashed in his guileless eyes. “You afraid of the King?”
“Should I be?”
Robby shook his head. “Jordan can be scary, but he’s a good guy. Just don’t let his yelling fool you.”
Anca laughed lightly at his attempt at a joke.
He continued to grin. Still didn’t budge.
After a moment of silence, she nodded politely before walking away. Robby’s gaze burned the back of her neck for a long minute, until the trees hid her from his view.
Shaking her head, she turned her attention back to the earth spirits. They pushed her faster toward the castle.
Why hadn’t she sensed the kid’s presence? The spirits hadn’t warned her, either.
She’d slipped past all of this place’s powerful defenses. Yet this young teen had managed to not only spot her, but sneak up on her, all without triggering any of her usual warnings.
She followed the flickering spirits, her thoughts worrying over Robby, unsure what exactly to make of the boy.
Minutes later, the hedges ended at the castle walls. The last rays of the lingering sun disappeared behind the mountains, drenching everything with the dark of twilight. Between the trees and bushes crowding alongside the stone, the spirits led her to an open window on the ground floor.
A voice drifted out. “…been months, damn it.” The man’s words rang with despondence, and beneath it, anger.
Cautiously, Anca glanced inside, staying mostly hidden by shadows and the thick, old-fashioned wooden window frame.
On the other side of a very large room, a vampire paced in front of an old wooden sideboard, covered in what appeared to be dozens of miniature paintings. He was thin, almost to the point of emaciation. Sandy blonde hair and cold blue eyes enhanced narrow, Nordic features.
He spoke again. “How much longer must I bear this? Five months. Luci’s still gone.” His aura shone with bright vampire red in a smoky gray, glinting with flashes of emotion.
Someone else sighed.
In a pair of antique chairs all the way to the right, in front of a large fireplace. One of the chairs had been turned to face out at the room. And in it sat a second vampire. Blond, with a regal bearing and strong features, his elegant suit and casual pose gave off the appearance of a relaxed man. The tic in his jaw, the dark light in his blue eyes, told a different story.
The power of his aura was nearly blinding. Flecks of crimson, and a silvery-green she’d never seen before swirled in a light gray. A wash of his magic swept the room. Over her. An itchy pressure over her skin like thousands of marching ants.
This could only be the King of the castle, and Master of the local clan. Jordan MacDougal.
His reply held a strong assurance. “Leo, we will get your sister back. I swear it.”
A sister? It was rare enough for a turned vampire to rise, even more so for blood relatives to survive the change. She was finding all sorts of oddities here.
“When?” The younger vampire slowly turned, as if ancient and every movement brought agony. He looked at the King with so much despair, Anca felt his pain from where she crouched.
MacDougal stood up and crossed the room to lay a hand on Leo’s shoulder. “Soon as we can.” His voice thickened with a Scottish brogue. “I swear it, lad. No one is giving up.”
Leo started to speak, didn’t manage a sound. He cleared his throat. “One of these days, Luci’s going to be…” He choked, then mumbled, “Find her dead… Tortured. Gotta get her out,” he ended on a strained whisper.
Anca swallowed past her tight, heating throat. She knew all too well the excruciation that came when forced to face having a loved one, family, being captured by the enemy. Worse was finding them brutally tortured to death. Knowing you hadn’t been able to stop it, to save those you loved.
It was enough to crush one’s soul.
MacDougal replied, “We are searching everywhere.”
Leo started to shake his head, a flash of something in his eyes Anca couldn’t quite see. His shoulders slumped and he slowly nodded. “I can’t… I just… It’s killing me.”
“Aye. I understand. You’ll continue to be kept informed of everything we find.”
Leo nodded again, a bit more hopeful. He bowed before turning and leaving the room.
The King turned and strode back to the unlit fireplace, staring at the soot-blackened stones in deep thought. With a weary sigh, he turned his chair toward the wall like its’ match, and sat down.
His gaze never left the fireplace.
Anca continued to study him. This vampire, both a Master and clan King, seemed reasonable. Decent. Caring. All that she’d been told.
But she’d not be able to trust him at all without an answer to the question burning inside of her. She leapt up, landing catlike and quiet on the wide windowsill. Soundlessly, she stepped down to the floor, and crossed the room.
She stopped a good ten feet behind the King.
Letting a small taste of her power seep from the cloak she constantly hid it beneath, Anca pushed the magic of her position into her words. “Why do you have a child vampire?”
With a bellow, the King jerked to his feet and rushed her.
“Halt, Warrior. I was sent by Endulpias.”
The name of one of the Magic Council’s Elder vampires stopped his very large, grasping hands only inches from her throat. He straightened, looking her up and down. “You are a Judge from the Council?” he asked softly.
“I am.” Keeping her expression coldly neutral, she stated just as deceptively soft, “This will be the final time I ask. Why do you have a child vampire?”
He didn’t even hesitate. “The boy came to me that way.”
“From who?” she demanded.
Rubbing his jaw, he assessed her. “It doesn’t matter now. His old Master is dead.” His face, his eyes and voice all projected truth. More importantly, so did his strange aura. Anca relaxed the slightest bit.
As if he’d read her carefully hidden anger, and now its cooling, the tension billowing from him eased as well. He looked her up and down with a critical eye, and then laughed heartily. “The Magic Council sent me a babe. How old were you when you became a vampire?”
She’d been nearly twenty and in her time, very much an adult. Anca stood to her full height, ignoring the fact that he towered over her.
Used to being taken lightly due to her small stature and appearance, she replied, “The Council ordered a Judge sent to assist with your recent problems. Do you wish to question my abilities?” For the briefest of moments, she opened the cloak hiding her magic a little wider. Let him feel more of her power.
The King’s eyes flared crimson for an instant. Then, like a patient predator, he stepped back. A hint of a smile played at his lips as he bowed his head regally. “My apologies. I am Jordan MacDougal, local Master and clan King. Welcome to my territory. We graciously accept your assistance.” He sounded sincere but his words dripped with sarcasm.
Anca understood. Was used to it.
He needed help, but didn’t necessarily like being forced to take it. Like all the Masters she’d worked with over the centuries, he’d either accept her, or force her to prove her strength. Anca would deal with his choice when it came. And if his decision was to fight, well, she’d yet been the one to lose.
MacDougal waved her to the chairs in front of the fireplace, wordlessly offering her a seat. Tipping her head politely, she settled lightly in the one beside his.
After a long moment, he reclaimed his seat. “May I ask how you got in?” The too-casual question hung in the air.
Anca raised a brow. “I’m a Judge. I have been for quite some time. Though I may look young, my power isn’t to be trifled with.” She continued, gently but without the slightest waver. “The Magic Council has heard disturbing rumors from Arizona. Out of control problems, both here in Moss Creek, and down in Phoenix. I’m here to solve what the Council considers the larger, and more immediate threat. That would be your town. I’ve read the reports from the last year or so, but I’d prefer first hand details if you’d fill me in?”
He spoke of an unraveling truce and growing problems with the local pack of wolf shifters. An endless influx of dark Rogues. “A master vampire who utilized black magics came to Moss Creek a while back.” MacDougal’s fists clenched. The wooden arms of his chair creaked threateningly. “Best I can figure, Thomas Montgomery thought to overthrow me and take control here. While he and many of his creatures were quickly dealt with, a few remaining followers have managed to stay stubbornly hidden while continuing his work.” His expression flushed with shadows of regret and self-castigation.
Once he’d brought her up to date on the most recent murders, MacDougal fell silent, staring at the banked fireplace. Long moments passed before he met her gaze. “All the recent problems have thrown the local Arcaine into a chaos we’re still climbing out of.”
Anca calculated a few things. “So you’ve been battling on two fronts, the pack and this dark vampire’s leftovers?”
“Aye. And something tells me that there are more secrets waiting to surprise us. You know most of mine after reading the council reports.” He studied her. “I do wonder what your exact orders are?”
She hesitated, but everything so far said she could trust this man. MacDougal was a Master, true. But he didn’t seem to be one of those who’d become corrupted by power.
Instead of answering, she said, “Connor Gregory has spoken much of you and your clan. He told me you are trustworthy.” A fellow Judge, Connor was also related to the king. A cousin or something.
“Why didn’t you tell me you came with a recommendation from that old bastard?” MacDougal barked a laugh as he sat back, this time truly relaxing. He waved a hand. “Go on.”
“The Council ordered me to eliminate the remaining members of Montgomery’s clan. Connor added a secondary request.”
Anca pushed on. “He spoke of your sister’s betrayal, and how, even after she was turned over to the Council, the security here is not what it should be.”
His face could have been etched from the same granite as his home. “Does the Council know about the traitor within my clan?”
Having done as Connor asked and kept it quiet, she replied, “No.”
MacDougal breathed a sigh of relief.
Searching for additional answers, she said, “Tell me of Leo and his sister.”
“I won’t bother to ask how long you were eavesdropping.” He pinned her with a powerful look.
Though she didn’t blush easily, for some reason, heat crawled up her cheeks. She’d only been doing her job. So why did his stern stare make her feel like she had long ago, caught by her tată while trying to be sneaky?
The King replied, “Leo and Luci are rare blood relations. They’ve been with me nearly a hundred and fifty years. The Rogues took Luci late last fall, while Montgomery was still alive. She’s one of the few captured back then that we weren’t able to find, to rescue.” His shoulders slumped, the heaviness of responsibility he felt suddenly tripling in weight.
“How many of your people do they still have?”
“That we believe are alive? Three.” His tone was low, weary. “Even one is too many.”
“Why do you think they’re still alive?”
“Because they haven’t been dropped off in town, with signs of being killed in dark rituals, like the others.”
The answer chilled her to the core. Hopefully, she’d be able to ease the burden for him. For his clan and all the other local Arcaine affected by the dark magics permeating this place. She was going to find these Rogues. Put an end to their depravities.
And there was the other matter. The personal favor for Connor Gregory. She’d try her best. But in order to do that, she’d need MacDougal’s complete cooperation.
Would she get it?
Without looking away from him, she told him matter-of-factly. “If I cannot find your traitor before I leave, I will be required to report the breech to the Council.” Laws were what they were, and they had to be followed. Even if it meant the Council would be forced to interfere fully.
MacDougal shot her a calculating look. “Of course.”
Thoughts racing, she started a mental list of the many things she’d need to figure out how and where the Rogues were hiding.
And, there was one more person in town she had to speak with, sooner rather than later. “I need the statements from the recent killings. Your Keeper of the Peace should have them?”
“Shane Spencer. Also town sheriff. I’ll have someone get the reports.”
He stood. “I’ll have a room readied for your stay.”
“I won’t be staying here.” Though it was protocol to be offered, in over four centuries, she’d never once accepted.
“As you prefer,” he replied. “The town’s inn then?”
Curiosity flickered over his face. “There’s no other place to stay in town.”
“I’m not staying in town.” Whether she told him or not, he’d figure it out. He had a stubborn, must-know-everything type of vibe. “I’m camping in the forest.”
On top of the uncomfortableness being around large numbers of people brought, towns weren’t safe. Anyone could find out your location. In the forest, all Anca had to do was make certain no one followed her to the hidden camp she’d set up, complete with her own unbreakable protective wards, and she’d be quite safe.
MacDougal seemed put out with her reply, but only asked, “Do you need supplies?”
Knowing he was referring to a steady supply of fresh blood, she said, “I do.”
“Our only blood bank is located in the hospital, first floor. It’s on the south side of town. Just tell them I sent you, though as a Judge, you won’t have any problems.”
That wouldn’t work with the slowly forming plan she had in mind. “I don’t want to announce I’m a Judge.”
He paused, assessing her once more. “What?”
“It would be better if I appear as a Rogue, unaffiliated with your clan. And I’d prefer that you tell as few of your vampires–and only those you trust explicitly.”
“You’re not used to small towns, are you?”
“People gossip, is all. But I’ll do my best.”
“If there’s anything else, you can contact me at–”
MacDougal cut her off with a laugh. “If I need to contact you, I’ll find you. This is my territory, after all, lass.” His power flared.
Anca tensed, but this wasn’t the test of power she worried might come–a waste of everyone’s time and strength. Instead, it was more a friendly warning that she was here at his allowance.
She donned a neutral expression and tipped her head the slightest bit.
Acknowledging his rule here.
Just not over her.
Matt Dixon sat in his chilly office, finishing paperwork for the surgery he’d recently performed. He ignored the crowd in the room, knowing that if he didn’t pay them heed, they might go away.
Not likely. But might.
He slid another completed form neatly on the small stack at the edge of his desk. A second later, someone tapped on the wood. Matt glanced over. The papers were askew. He realigned the edges perfectly square before continuing to write up his notes.
The top sheet of paper flipped up into the air, tumbling over itself until it landed on the floor across the room, near the door.
Guess this uninvited guest refused to be ignored.
Matt looked over the handful of ghosts lounging around his office. His glare landed on the one messing with his paperwork and demanding attention. “George, your wife survived the operation. You saw her.”
The old man, dead three months from a werewolf attack, stared mournfully. His wife of forty years had been Matt’s most recent patient. Implanting her pacemaker had gone well, but now, the mortal woman needed to rest and recover.
At least with his wife in the hospital, George seemed to have decided to mostly appear as he had in life–a hearty, redheaded lumberjack of a man–rather than the usual lately, as he’d looked in death after the attack.
Most Arcaine believed seeing the dead was a powerful ability. One only a small percentage of vampires acquired.
Matt considered it a burden.
Though he could see and speak to them, there wasn’t a damn thing he could do to help. He didn’t even know why they remained. Only that he’d only ever seen a concentration of ghosts in the same area where they’d died. Like George and the others wandering the hospital.
And like all spirits, ever voiceless, George picked up the paper and slapped it against the door.
Matt shook his head. “She needs rest. She’ll wake in the morning and not beforehand. Be patient.”
George shook his head jerkily, not caring for Matt’s reasoning. The ghost flung the paper at the ceiling. It fluttered a moment before floating to the floor. George picked it up and threw it higher, again and again.
With a quiet sigh, Matt turned back to his notes. When he finished, he carefully slid the paperwork into the appropriate folder, crossed his office, and snagged the last sheet from the air in front of George.
Even though the ghosts couldn’t be felt, at least not by anyone mundane like him, Matt stepped around George out of politeness as he left his office. In the hall, he slipped the paper in its proper place, then tapped the folder to exactly align the edges.
George followed, passing through the door to join the few ghosts in the bright, sterile hospital hall. The spirits eerily floated above the floor, wandering ever aimlessly.
Matt ignored them and headed down the corridor, George at his side, staring mournfully.
Moss Creek was fairly small, but with all the Arcaine living nearby, the hospital stayed busier than it should. With the wounded, and far too many deaths.
The handful of doctors who worked in town shared two secretaries. Inside their office, Matt dropped his folder neatly into the in basket on the first desk. Back in the hallway, he found George had left. Most likely off to look after his wife while she slept.
Matt returned to his office, but when he reached for the doorknob, a growing lethargy stopped him, leaving him blankly staring at his nameplate. Exhaustion rolled through him. He rubbed his face wearily. The letters of his name blurred and doubled, then cleared, before blurring again.
He should go home.
Get some sleep.
With all the recent butchery, thanks to the Arcaine Rogues trying to hijack Moss Creek, he’d spent far too much time working, and too little time sleeping. He checked his watch, startled it was almost eight p.m.
He’d been on shift nearly sixty hours between scheduled patients and emergencies. While he didn’t need much sleep, he required at least some. He’d be no good without rest. In fact, he could be dangerous to a patient right now.
Decision made, he turned and headed for the blood bank that serviced the local vampires. He needed to stock up at home.
A few corridors from the always open bank, a sweep of power washed over Matt.
Unfamiliar vampire power.
The few ghosts in view stopped moving as if they too felt it. Almost as one, they turned in the direction of the blood bank.
He’d never seen such a reaction before.
Matt walked faster until he was nearly running.
He knew all the clan vampires.
This wasn’t one of them. And if there were visitors for his King, he’d have been told. Which meant this might be one of the Rogues. His entire clan was hunting those damned Arcaine.
The luck to have one walk in here.
He careened down the last hall and around the final corner.
Magic crashed against him like a brick wall, freezing him in midstep.
Across the wide lobby, by the blood bank’s glass doors, stood a tiny woman. Long raven hair, so black it had a glossy nearly blue shimmer, fell in a thick braid down her back. Dusty skin spoke of exotic blood.
The thick magic tightened like a noose around Matt’s throat, his chest, his limbs. Magic that he couldn’t place, other than the hint of a stranger. And vampire.
As if sensing him, the woman glanced back over her shoulder. Above a pert nose and bow-shaped lips twisted in a scowl, her eyes were a smoky blue.
Something inside Matt stirred when he met her gaze.
A hint of fear?
Perhaps, though it made no sense.
She was just a tiny thing.
In an instant the overpowering magic fled.
Straining as he had been, Matt stumbled forward a few steps.
With a soft gasp, the woman turned to face him fully. The magic must not have been coming from her. She didn’t seem all that strong. If he’d have to guess, she was maybe a decade old as a vampire, and that would be stretching it.
Exactly like reports about some of the Rogues hanging around.
Instinct rose. Matt growled harshly.
Stranger or Rogue, it didn’t matter. She had no right to be in his clan’s territory. But he’d solve that. An interrogation by his King would ferret out any secrets.
In less than a breath, he flashed across the wide lobby.
Her eyes widened imperceptibly, a ring of red bleeding around gray-blue irises.
Matt grabbed her shoulders. Slammed her back against the nearest wall. Before she could react, he shoved his power over her, a special type of sedative-like magic he’d perfected during long centuries.
The woman’s eyes slid closed. She slumped forward against his hold.
Hefting her over his shoulder, Matt spun on his heel and left the hospital.
iBooks link is now live, though they errored on my cover art. Getting that fixed now 😀