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 😀
Firestorm (Heart of a Vampire, Book 5)
Release Date: 11/13/2013
Coming soon to: Smashwords Kobo
A Viking vampire must face his tortuous past to save the woman who holds the key to his future.
Eric Wulfgar escapes from twisted dreams, only to find they have followed him into reality. Feeling like a shell of the man he once was, his king’s orders to help a New Orleans vampire clan might require more than he can give. But he has no choice to leave the shadows and return to the living.
Cat Bienville is frantic. Something strange is stalking the vampires of New Orleans. When the missing turn up dead with no explanation and her sire goes missing, she runs out of options. Left in charge of her coven, her duty is to keep her people safe. Only, she’s not prepared for help to come in the form of a chauvinistic male with a tattered soul.
When friends may be foes, Cat and Eric must find balance with one another in order to unveil the evil in their midst, even as a bigger threat darkens the horizon. Yet, Cat’s past may fracture their growing love. For how can she give Eric her heart, when her deepest secret may be more than he can ever accept?
Caught in the deepest recesses of his mind, Eric Wulfgar curled on an ice-cold stone floor. So very cold it seeped into his bones.
Eternal agony ate at his limbs, into his very soul.
Laughter rang out from the unending darkness, so sweet and musical it should have warmed him. Instead it chilled him to his core. Fear shuddered through him as he realized where he must be. Her dungeon.
From the nothingness, a ball of light appeared. He blinked against the brightness. As his vision focused, he stared at his nightmare come back to life. The glowing orb highlighted long crimson hair framing an angelic face. Lines of cruelty etched around her shining green eyes and laughing red lips.
He stared at the sorceress, unbelieving, uncomprehending. She had killed his family, then captured him and his twin brother long ago.
He would not give in to the whimper building in his dry throat. The memories of this place and his time here with her, had been buried, locked so deeply he’d thought them gone. He’d not been forced to face them in a millennia.
Biting his tongue, he savored the coppery tang of blood filling his mouth, but it was faint, as if none of this was truly real. As he struggled to escape, she laughed harder. It was too late. He had no strength left.
And he cursed himself for such weakness.
Shadows crawled across the floor. Invisible hands grabbed him, flipping him onto his stomach, and yanking his arms and legs out wide.
Fire whipped along his back, burning from shoulders to knees, as she used her favorite whip–blazing with magical hellfire. Flames licked across his skin, over and over, digging deeper, until he was beyond hoarse and could only scream soundlessly. He welcomed the death hovering just beyond reach.
The lashes stopped.
Senseless from pain, his mind nearly broke as he remembered what came next. The sorceress would never let him die.
Her smooth, soft hands caressed his face and arms. She kissed his neck, her flowery scent making him gag.
“My beasts are hungry,” she murmured in his ear.
He wanted to cry out, to beg her to stop. But he was a warrior. A Viking. He refused to be as weak, as broken as she wanted. He would not bend to her desires.
When he responded with nothing but silence, she hissed, “Fine.”
Clutching his hair, she wrenched his head back, then slapped him. Her nails raked furrows down his cheek. The scent of his blood spiked into the air.
And the monsters came, drawn by their endless hunger. Wolves, bears. Other creatures so grotesque and hard to look at, he couldn’t even begin to name them.
Devouring him alive.
Finally, blessed darkness took his mind. For a while, he floated, unfeeling, unthinking.
As always, she forced him to wake. Then the healing began, even more agonizing than the rest. Eric’s mind wavered and he knew he would thankfully soon be lost.
The memories dimmed.
It was a short respite. Another feminine laugh echoed around him, this one childlike yet holding a chilling hint of lunacy.
The vision of the sorceress changed, merging into another memory. Long blonde hair curled around a youthful, innocent face. Fiona’s image was comforting, the twin of his king. She skipped across the dungeon’s stone floor toward him, smiling shyly. Yet, like the sorceress, it was false, hiding pure evil.
More recent evil, he knew, not sure where the thought came from. These memories had never been locked inside that dark well. Instead, they were the force that had shattered the barrier he’d long ago erected to hide the past.
All too soon, the pain resumed. His skin burned. No whip this time. Fiona used shards of rowan wood, one of the few kinds of trees remaining with enough earth magic to hurt the vampire he’d become.
She slid the tip of a dagger beneath his skin, then shoved another sliver of rowan into the wound. She moved down the length of his body, adding long, rough scars to those he’d received millennia ago. His skin burned as if, at any moment, it would melt from the intense agony.
Uncontrollable shudders wracked him from the pain. Nausea followed. He would have vomited if there was anything in his stomach. All he could do was heave until the cramps mixed with the fiery burning from the wooden slivers.
He desperately prayed to Odin, begging to fade back into mindlessness. But release eluded him.
From the surrounding darkness, seemingly so far away he shouldn’t be able to hear, his brother shouted their family war cry.
Fear coursed through Eric as a new vision appeared before him. His brother stood in a strange, dark place. Multicolored lights flashed over Brandon’s angry face. A ball made of thousands of shards of glass dangled from a high ceiling. It spun in circles, shooting refracted light over his brother.
Magic filled the air, trapping Brandon. It stank of the sorceress. As her laughter washed over him, he realized she’d finally come to claim their souls as she’d failed to do long ago.
He had to save his brother. Save them both.
With a cry of rage, he called on his ancestors’ berserker strength. His vision blurred. Finally refocused. Blinking in the dim, flickering candlelight, he worked to sort out his memories and thoughts.
Pain no longer leeched at his body, though he still felt weak as an infant. He lay on something soft, facing a blackened, rock hewn wall that didn’t resemble the sorceress’s hellish dungeon.
“Hush, now. It will be all right,” a woman said softly from behind him.
Strangely, her voice soothed a part of his ragged heart. He cautiously turned. The woman smiled at him, breathtakingly beautiful, with an angelic face and short blonde hair.
His lungs compressed, forcing his breath to rush out. As he clenched his fists, he realized he wasn’t chained. He watched her, hiding his triumph. She would pay for that stupidity.
With a roar, he leapt up and lunged toward her.
“Eric, stop,” the woman commanded.
His body obeyed. More damned sorcery.
“You’re safe,” she said, then began to hum.
He remained locked in place. Slowly, the tune came to him. It had been his mother’s favorite melody, one she’d sung to him and Brandon as children.
His focus cleared and he realized she was neither the sorceress, nor his king’s sister. Her short blonde hair was streaked with… pink stripes? Her eyes drew him in, mesmerizing, calming his rage.
“That’s right,” she whispered. “No one will hurt you here.”
“Where’s my brother?” His voice was a hoarse croak.
“My name is Dalia. Do you remember me?”
He tried to shake his head, but still couldn’t move. An overpowering urge filled him. Not anger, as expected, but an unfounded, yet undeniable need to protect this woman.
“That’s all right. It will come in time.” She continued to hum and his tense muscles relaxed a little.
Across the room, a door opened, letting in more light. A large man stood silhouetted in shadow. Eric’s instincts screamed. Keep the woman safe at all costs. His duty.
She turned to glance at the intruder, and the magic over Eric slipped. It was all he needed to break free of her spell. He jumped between her and the doorway, crouching to a fighting stance, baring his fangs. He ignored the light-headedness, his body shaking from weakness.
He’d never win this fight.
It didn’t matter. He would do his duty until death took him. From habit, he reached over his shoulder, grasping for his battle-axe, BrynTröll. It wasn’t there.
The man stepped closer, from shadow to light, just as he’d done millennia ago.
Eric dropped one knee to the stone floor, bowing his head. “Sire.” His voice was little more than a choked whisper.
“Thank the gods you’ve returned to us,” his king said. Rough hands grabbed Eric’s arms, pulling him to his feet.
The rush of anger, the need to protect the woman, spilled from him as if he’d been drained of all energy. He slumped against the man, staring into his face. “Jordan,” he whispered.
“Don’t talk. And you shouldn’t be standing.” Jordan half-carried, half-led him back to the bed and pushed him down onto the mattress.
The woman, Dalia, poured a glass of thick, red liquid, then held it to his lips.
The scent of blood hit him and his stomach roared. When he tried to grasp the cup, his hands shook so badly he spilled the warm drink over his chin and chest.
“Let me hold it,” she said kindly.
He drank. The taste–salty, coppery, yet sweet–only inflamed his hunger. He gulped it down.
As if reading his mind, Dalia refilled the cup four times. Finally, the ravenous ache settled to a bearable level. As warmth rushed through his chilled body, his mind grew clearer. The recent past filled the gaps in his memory.
Dalia, his king’s charge. Vampires from their clan disappearing. He’d been following a lead, trying to find them, when it led to a trap.
His king’s twin sister, working with other vampires and, strangely, wolf shifters. They’d all taken pleasure in torturing him.
He fisted his hands in his lap, trying to shove the memories away before they engulfed him.
Pushed them back into the dark depths with the rest. Locked them all up tight.
Slowly, they receded, but didn’t go far. Ghostly whispers hovered at the edge of his mind, flickering like images seen from the corner of his vision.
He once more saw his brother facing evil.
“Where’s Brandon?” he asked again, this time stronger.
Jordan sighed. “We have much to discuss. But you’re with us again. Right now, that’s what matters.”
Pain lashed over Eric’s back. There, then gone. He heard laughter, the sound promising more.
Jordan and Dalia didn’t move, didn’t seem to hear anything amiss.
Eric stared at his king, realizing that while he might be awake, his sanity was lost.
Two Weeks Later
In the impossibly cold March night air, Cathrina Bienville raced through the edges of the bayou, outside her beloved city of New Orleans. Even with her vamipiric speed–the trees and miniscule glimmers of light from distant plantations flashed by–there didn’t seem to be any way she could win this race.
Behind her, the baying of the chasing wolves grew louder as they closed in.
She tripped over an exposed root and fell, splashing face first into a puddle of bitter brackish swamp. Spitting grit from her mouth, she rose. Snowy mud dripped down the front of her dark sweater and jeans. Appropriate spy attire, she’d figured earlier.
Running once more, Cat tried to breathe deep. The growing ache in her chest screamed from a deeper pain. She prayed her fall hadn’t damaged something internal.
A branch sliced across her cheek, ripped at her long red hair falling from its bun. Strands tumbled in her face, obscuring her vision. She shoved it back, leaves and twigs poking from the tangled mass.
Freezing sweat dripped down her face, stinging her cuts and scrapes. The heady scent of blood surrounded her.
The howls drew ever nearer, making her stomach lurch.
What was supposed to have been simple–checking out a deserted plantation for her missing coven members and hopefully finding her sire–had turned into a dark, breathless flight from at least six wolves.
All of them out for her blood.
Not good odds. Not in her favor anyway.
At least she’d eaten recently. Right before the alarm had sounded, she’d come across a wolf in his human form. Just as he’d swung his blade for her neck, she’d whispered her precious command. Fire rose from the ground around his feet, distracting him long enough for her to sink her fangs into his delectable throat.
The magic from the shifter’s blood, the only thing sustaining her desperate flight, was fading.
She flashed through the trees, dodging claw-like branches that seemed to surge out and try to capture her in their grip. The ground sucked at her shoes with each step.
The scent of magic drifted to her on the icy breeze. Her plantation, and the wards creating a barrier around it. Almost home, yet still seemingly so far.
Howls rent the air. They were so close now, she could hear claws scrabbling over the ground. She tried to push herself faster still.
The world became a blur, filled only by the sounds of her labored breaths, her thundering heartbeat, and the baying of the hounds at her heels. She caught the stench of wolves, wet fur mixed with decaying meat and blood.
The trembling in her legs slowed her pace.
Howls echoed as the pack sensed their prey within striking distance.
She broke through the last line of grasping branches. A few hundred yards ahead, a line of trees stood sentinel at the edge of her land, marking the boundary of the magical barrier.
A wolf snarled, slamming into her back, sending them both tumbling. It snapped its toothy muzzle at her neck. Fetid breath washed over her face.
She punched it in the throat. Clawing its fur, she shoved her last shreds of power into the command. “Incendium.”
Flames erupted from her palm, hungrily spreading over the beast. Its yelp escalated into a screeching wail of agony.
Shoving it aside, Cat rose to her knees. Not twenty feet away, the other wolves crouched. Bulky shadows glared at her with glowing, ice blue eyes.
She raised her arms, though the effort made her dizzy, and held her hands out, palms facing them.
The wolf beside her stilled. Burning hair and flesh wafted on the cold air.
The rest of the pack howled, the sound ear splitting. Then as one, they fell silent, watching her. None advanced.
Not giving them a chance to realize she had no strength left, Cat stood, trying to hide her shakiness. She walked backwards until she reached the barrier.
As she stepped through, magic swept over her skin in a tingling warmth. She lowered her hands and leaned against a tree. The pack approached the fallen wolf, their anguished howls resuming. Cat turned and stumbled over the stretching fields, towards her home.
New Orleans had never been normal, not since the long ago days when her father had claimed the area for the King of France. But lately, dark magics were running rampant through the city.
Dark enough to take out her sire, the leader of their local coven. Jacques Gervais was the most powerful vampire she’d met in her centuries of life. Not only was he missing, so was Cat’s best friend. Just a girl–it had only been a hundred years since her turning–Abby Cameron was still nearly as weak as a mortal. She didn’t know how to use her vampire powers well. If Cat didn’t find the two of them soon…
As she climbed the porch steps to her front door, her head bowed, her shoulders drooping from the heavy weight of worry, she had to admit she was lost and sinking fast. With the mystery of the missing and murdered vampires, the sudden arrival of so many wolves, and the dark magic flooding the city, she needed help.
She couldn’t solve this by herself.
Not with her life intact.
An errant thought hit her. That of a young vampire she’d once helped and befriended. Niki DeVeraux had ended up in some small town in Arizona. More importantly, she’d been taken in by a huge coven of vampires.
Cat wasn’t comfortable reaching out and explaining her problems to others–she’d been brought up to be a proper lady who kept such things to herself–but perhaps they’d be able to help. She had to do something, or her sire and best friend would certainly end up dead… and she’d end up murdered, right along with them.
Hope you enjoy 😀