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DARK LIAISON: AN EMA MARX NOVEL 2 By J.D. Brown Dark Liaison ÂŠ 2013 by J.D. Brown All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, or events, is coincidental and not intended by the author. Warning: Contains mild violence and some sexual content.
Chapter One I crossed my right leg over the left. My bottom slid toward the edge of the glossy black, leather seat, causing me to slouch. I straightened and tugged on the cream button-down blouse. The shirttail drooped past my hips and the coffee-colored cotton skirt reached my toes. The borrowed clothes belonged to Maria. I looked like a little girl playing dress-up in them. I uncrossed my legs and then swung the left over the right. My butt slid across the limousine and hit the passenger door like butter gliding across a hot pan. With a single finger, I pushed the sunglasses further up the bridge of my nose. All of the tinted windows stayed shut, including the little panel separating the stretch-limo’s driver from the passengers. The string of tiny lights lining the roof remained unused. My brain registered the thick darkness inside the cabin. A normal person couldn’t see two inches past their nose. My vision was fine and dandy in the dark. That wasn’t why I was uncomfortable. I should have done the opposite. I should have taken the glasses off and asked the driver to turn on the lights, open all the windows, and let the daylight burn my retinas. Maybe then it would’ve be easier to resist the scene buzzing past us—Berlin. I couldn’t believe I was in Germany, and I couldn’t believe I was missing it. The historian in me—hell, the girl in me— wanted to explore Europe so badly. To actually experience it like a normal tourist on a normal vacation. Instead I was transported like some sort of criminal through the city. Well, there was a warrant for my arrest floating around. Yet it wasn’t the warrant that kept me from stealing a peek out the tinted window. I groaned as I forcefully uncrossed and re-crossed my legs. My left heel accidently slammed against the duffle bag on the floor and I jumped. Jesu’s masculine pale-blue hand slid over the center space and wrapped around mine. His brow furrowed, dipping behind black sunglasses that cloaked his emerald-green gaze. The thin line of his lips hinted at his concern. “Ema, you are fidgeting more than normal,” he said. I rolled my eyes and pulled my hand out from under his as I bent to untangle the bag’s strap from my ankle. He chewed his lip. Along with the glasses, his curtain of velvet hair hid most of his face. He was dressed head to toe in black. I knew what lay under his clothes; more ice-blue skin stretched over toned muscle as cool and blue as the lips he held between his pointed 4
teeth. It was a shame he was a distant relative, and it was embarrassing that I tried getting to first base with him before I knew we were related. “We will arrive soon,” he offered. “Once we are settled in, you can dri—” “Don’t say it.” As if my nephilim genes had ears of their own, my throat suddenly went parched. My stomach groaned as the thirst rammed its demanding horns into my gut. The craving was always present, but the four hour flight in a cramped single engine Skyhawk, coupled with the two hour non-stop drive through the German countryside to Berlin, turned the thirst into a hornet’s nest. Every accidental glimpse at a pedestrian walking too close to my side of the limo felt like a kid hitting the nest with a big stick. The metaphorical hornets were pissed and aching to sting something. My hands shook. I sucked in a deep breath and then smoothed my palms over my lap. “I’m two minutes away from phasing out the door and attacking the first thing with a pulse.” Jesu nodded and then leaned against the backrest on his side of the leather bench seat, his legs stretched out in front of him. He looked relaxed, but still faced me, gaze lingering. Well, I had threatened to attack someone. He was just being wary. And silent. Maybe he thought the quiet helped. Unfortunately, ever since I became a vampyre, silence no longer existed. The hum of the vehicle’s engine hammered three-fold against my eardrums, pushing my frayed nerves closer to the edge. I wracked my brain for something to say; something to keep my focus off the scenery, my ears off the limousine’s mechanics, and my sanity from combusting. “So is the R.E.D…well, what is the R.E.D. anyway?” “The Reclusive Eternal Dragons are…” He glanced at the roof of the limo for a moment. “They are a lot of things.” I arched my brow, waiting for him to elaborate. Mr. Vague. He inhaled and then sighed. “They are a secret society of humans that help us.” My eyes popped wide-open. “I thought humans didn’t know vampyres existed?” “The vast majority do not. There are a select very wealthy and specially trained few who do. They are the R.E.D.” “We’re going to meet them now?” Jesu scoffed. “Of course not.” “I thought Naamah said we were supposed to go to the R.E.D.?” 5
He shook his head. “The R.E.D. is huge, Ema. We are just going to a hotel the R.E.D. owns. It is a hotel that is exclusive to our kind.” My gaze narrowed. How could the R.E.D. be huge yet only made up of a small group of humans? I was about to ask when the limousine slowed to a crawl and then pulled over. My stomach did a flip-flop. We’re here? Already? Jesu tensed as he looked past me, out the window. The vehicle rocked a bit as the driver got out and came around to my side to open the door. White light filled the limo’s interior. My eyes squinted behind the glasses, the only barrier keeping me from going temporarily blind. The driver offered his hand. I knew he was a vampyre—or maybe a vampire. It was impossible to discern the difference from physical appearance. He smelled like a predator. In the daylight, the man looked washed out. His skin was bleach-white, his clothes some sort of pale yellow. Even his eyes looked golden and he was surrounded by a fuzzy neon halo. I held my breath, took his hand, and slid out of the limousine. Even without breathing, even without seeing them, I sensed people—everywhere. I could hear them walking, chatting, driving, eating. A knot formed in my gut and my fists clenched. Jesu climbed out of the limo and wrapped an arm tightly around my waist. I bit back the urge to scoff. I can phase out of his grip. It would be as simple as blinking. But his hold did help keep my mind in the present. I ground the heels of my shoes against the yellow sidewalk and forced my gaze to focus on the building in front of us. It stood tall and surrounded by other buildings, like any city. There was some sort of decoration on the side edges, but I couldn’t see much more than the hard outlines of an archway in the center. Not with the florescent sheen beating off every surface thanks to the sun. Jesu led me closer to the arch. “There’s a step,” he whispered. I glanced down and noticed the hard edge of a stair. How did he know that was there? Once I stepped up, the archway cloaked us in blissful shade. Paired with the glasses, I was able to see an increment better. The archway was shallow, leading up just a few steps to a narrow iron door held open by our driver. His skin had stopped glowing and I realized now he wore a gray suit, but his eyes were still golden. Jesu slipped him an orange euro bill, and then gently guided me past the threshold into the building. As soon as the door closed, my mind registered the total darkness. I removed the sunglasses and sighed in relief. My vampyre vision returned to its full acuteness. Vivid color and 6
minuscule detail rushed forth. Not that there was much to see as I followed Jesu down the sleek, white hallway. There were no windows and the air smelled of antiseptic which lowered my cravings a notch. Plump red armchairs sat around a black coffee table with a crystal chess set and a Birds of Paradise bouquet in a blue vase. Beyond the seating arrangement, the hall ended in a Tintersection with a large reception desk in the center. The receptionist pushed a few loose strands of coal black hair behind her ear as she chatted into the microphone of her headset. Clean pale fingers flew across the computer’s keyboard. Her gaze swept up at our approach. Golden irises and pearly-white fangs greeted us. I was getting used to the teeth, but I wasn’t expecting her eyes to be gold in color, like our driver’s. She quickly ended her telephone conversation and then stood, broadening her smile. “Prince Jesu.” She dipped in a quick curtsy. “Velcome back to Berlin. Miss Marx, it is a pleasure to meet you.” “Guten tag.” He nodded. “I trust your manager spoke with the Neo-Draugrian Hand?” “Ja, Your Highness. Everything has been arranged down to dee last detail. I vill show you to your room.” I didn’t know which was more appalling; hearing someone refer to Jesu by his title for the first time, or the fact that he’s been to Berlin before. With the elite vampire assassins? I wondered. As she moved around the desk to join us, I noticed the name tag on the lapel of her red blazer said “Kirstin.” Next to the tag was a small gold plated pin in the shape of a scaly serpent with a dragon head and wings. The body bent around in the shape of an “O” with the tip of the tail ending in the serpent’s mouth. She led us down the left side of the corridor to a set of elevators. “We’ve added many new modern features in dee past decade. Dee guest rooms are now soundproof and have been completely renovated to include all modern-day fixtures. We have an indoor swimming pool that is heated and a veight room on dee third floor. On dee fourth floor is a movie room, a game room, and a bar.” As appreciative as I was that Kirstin spoke English, her accent was going to take some getting used to. I thought about getting a book of German translations and meeting her halfway. The doors slid open and we boarded the elevator. Kirstin pressed button number seven and the 7
doors closed. Once released on the seventh floor, Kirstin led the way down another wide hall with walls just as white and sleek as the lobby. Black carpeting lined the floor and a few plush red chairs stood in strategically placed areas near decorative plants. The air smelled of antiseptic and fresh vegetation, the plants doing their job. All the doors were painted black with brass numbers at the top. Kirstin stopped in front of a door numbered 714 and then produced a plastic card from her blazer pocket. She swiped the card through the electronic lock and then turned the handle. “Here we are, Your Highness.” I rolled my eyes. Seriously, just call him Jesu. The ridiculous title was easier to swallow with Jesu’s older brother, Jalmari. He at least dressed and carried himself like a pompous heir. But Jesu… I glanced at his Led Zeppelin T-shirt, faded black jeans, and steel toe shit-kicker boots…‘Your Highness’ my ass. Jesu and I followed her inside. I was about to ask if the room had double beds when my jaw dropped. The space opened into an extensive suite lined entirely by dazzling honey and cream-colored marble; the floors, walls, ceiling, even the breakfast bar separating the kitchen from the living room was made of marble. Stainless steel appliances decked the kitchen. Four barstools with cream-colored cushions sat behind the bar. Several feet past the bar, the floor sank three steps into the lowered living room. A wraparound couch made of the same fabric as the bar stools surrounded a sixty-inch flat screen TV. On the far right and left of the suite were faux walls made of Oriental sliding panels. Red cherry blossoms painted the thin canvas material. Our bedrooms. My breath hitched as I wondered what they looked like. Probably like a million bucks, just like the rest of this suite. “You will find everything you need here.” Kirstin’s beaming smile was evident in her voice. “Toiletries and extra towels are under dee sink in dee bathing rooms, extra linens and garments are in your closets. Housekeeping comes every Friday at midnight. Dee refrigerator is restocked at that time. Should you require anything else, please do not hesitate to use dee telephone. There is one in each bedroom.” Jesu thanked her. She handed him two plastic key cards and he gave her few colorful euros. As soon as the door closed behind her, I let my excitement out. “Oh. My. God. This is amazing.” I turned in a slow circle, taking it all in. There were no windows. Just a few tiny tea lights behind frosted glass embedded in the marble ceiling. It was perfect. 8
Jesu chuckled. “Wait until you see your bedroom.” I froze and narrowed my gaze. “Which one’s mine?” His sideways smile dimpled his left cheek and he gestured by raising his eyebrows. “The one on the right.” I bolted toward the cherry blossomed panel, slid the door to the left, and stepped inside. The space was very zen with red and black crêpe paper lanterns hanging from the ceiling, stained wood floors, and bamboo furniture. The bed sheets were a crisp white and everything gleamed softly, including the adjoined matching bathroom. My chest heaved in a slight sigh. The theme was a bit much, but the room was just vacant enough that I could cling to the fact that living here was temporary. It’s a hotel, not an apartment. My fingertips traced the pale bamboo knobs of the wardrobe as I wondered what kind of garments hid inside. I pulled the drawers open. An array of dresses lined the rack, arranged by color, length, and material; short cotton summer dresses on the left to floor-length ball gowns on the right. I scrunched my nose. Ick. Below them were six smaller drawers. I opened the top one and found several new packages of panties with the tags still on them, an oversized nightgown in lima-bean-green with tiny puke-green bows, and something made of red lace. I pinched the red lace between my thumb and middle finger and pulled it out for further examination. It clearly was not an I-want-to-feel-feminine-while-I-sleep teddy, but a fuck-meimmediately teddy. The entire thing was see-through, the cups cinched into an empire waist and the hem ended in a tiny ruffle that wouldn’t cover more than a third of my butt. “You like it?” I jumped, did a one-eighty, and then threw the teddy across the room like it was a hand grenade. It hit the wall and then floated behind the bed. My lungs released a painful breath. “Of course not. I’m not a slut.” Jesu leaned a shoulder leisurely against the door frame with his arms crossed, the duffle bag hanging from his forearm. He chuckled as his gaze fell to the floor and then swept back up to face me, the dimple in his left cheek more prominent than ever. “I meant the room…not the—” “The room’s great, thanks!” Heat rose to my cheeks as I slammed the drawers shut. He snickered and I glared at him. He cleared his throat and stood straight, but his smile didn’t wane and the laughing sparkle in his eyes still twinkled. 9
“Here,” he said. He reached into the duffle bag and then pulled out a rolled up scroll. My breath caught. “You brought it with? I didn’t think we could.” “Technically it belongs to the Neo-Draugrian library, but we can always return it later. I think you should have it.” He extended his arm, pushing the frail paper into my hands. I looked at the ancient document that detailed the knowledge of the Jumlin clan; my father’s clan. The foreign script might have been impossible for me to decipher, but the weight it carried in sentiment was something only I could understand. A knot twisted in my stomach, the same kind I used to get whenever Mom and I fought. I tried to swallow but my throat had thickened. I managed to mumble a “thank you.” His expression was suddenly serious. “I can read it to you…if you want.” I shook my head. “Thanks, but it’s still a sore spot.” He nodded his understanding. Then his eyes lit up and he snapped his fingers. “I almost forgot.” He reached into his jeans pocket. “I found this in the trash in Naamah’s bathroom, along with your clothes. I thought maybe you forgot about it.” He pulled out a small crinkled square of paper folded in half and splotched with red stains. I recognized it immediately as the Jack the Ripper newspaper clipping I took from Jalmari’s library. “You want me to keep that too?” He shrugged. “I do not know what this is. I just thought it might be important since it was in your pocket.” He turned the paper over in his hand and then slowly ran his thumb under the edge as if to open it. I snatched it away. “Thanks.” He shrugged. “I am sorry there was not time to get the rest of your things.” “I’m pretty sure I won’t miss them too much,” I said, looking at the wardrobe again. I placed the article and scroll in one of the small drawers. “They’ve thought of everything here. You’d think we were moving in permanently.” I winced in hindsight. “We’re not staying here permanently, right?” “Vampires tend not to have permanent homes, but the length of our stay does not make a difference to Naamah. He would have only the highest quality, no expense too great. It is part of his job.” “It was part of his job.” I sighed. “Now his job is…whatever Apollyon wants him to do.” Just thinking about Naamah—and Maria—sent reality crashing down around me. “This isn’t fair. 10
We’re expected to live like kings while Naamah and Maria suffer at the hands of that psychotic Apollyon? Who knows what horrible things he’s doing to them?” After witnessing Leena’s murder, I really did not want to imagine what Apollyon might have in store for Maria or Naamah. I hugged myself. “I should phone the Council but…” My brow quirked. “But?” “It may be too risky. They will figure out where we are.” I sagged against the edge of the bed. “They’ll arrest me and hand me over to Jalmari. We shouldn’t have come here. We ran and they’ll think it’s because I’m guilty.” Jesu shook his head. “No, they will not come here for you. Germany belongs to the Alpan clan; no Neo-Draugrian vampyre or vampire can arrest you here. You are safe as long as you do not set foot in Neo-Draugrian territory again.” “Then why do you think contacting the Council will be dangerous?” Jesu raked his fingers through his long tresses. “I know my father. He will take back the throne as soon as he is able. Once he declares himself the Neo-Draugrian king again, we will have no allies there, only enemies.” “But…but I thought Apollyon was an enemy of the clan, can’t they arrest him?” Jesu shook his head. “My father will not let it be that easy. He will find a place to hide, build an army, and lay in wait until the right moment. Or perhaps he will pick the Council members off one by one. Besides, he married into the Neo-Draugrian clan. He is the rightful, legal king. Not even Jalmari can do anything about that.” Nausea twisted my stomach in knots as a mortifying realization took hold. “He won’t care about the law. If the Council doesn’t arrest me, Apollyon will find other ways. I know he will.” “That is why I cannot risk calling. You are safe here, Ema.” He closed the distance between us and then touched the tip of his forefinger under my chin, lifting my jaw until our gazes locked. His eyes were a deep stormy emerald. “I promise you are safe.” I swallowed the lump in my throat and then nodded. His hand fell away from my chin. “I believe there is a reason why Naamah specifically chose Berlin for us. The Alpan king and queen live nearby. King Nikolas despises my father.” “Do you think he will help us?” 11
Jesu scrubbed the base of his palms against his forehead. “I am hoping we never have to ask, but I am positive Naamah placed us here just in case.” “I don’t understand. Why don’t you want to tell Nikolas? Why risk waiting for Apollyon to come here?” Jesu glanced at the floor. “Ema, you are a bit of a commodity; a vampyre born to two humans. My father already wants to use you… I do not know how the rest of our kind will react. If we tell Nikolas now, he will ask questions.” I scoffed. “So tell him about your premonition. I’m sure he won’t hurt me if he wants Apollyon out of his hair.” “What if that makes things worse? If word gets out about you, people might try to force you to fight—” “I want to fight Apollyon. I want to send him back to hell.” His wide eyes gazed into mine; a plea sparkled across them. “You will get your chance. I know that better than anyone else, but you need time. If you go after my father now, you will lose. Please, wait and learn how to fight before you do this. Give yourself a fair shot at least.” A sigh pushed past my lips. I wasn’t dumb; I knew I didn’t stand a chance against Apollyon. I had only been a vampyre for a few months, and I sucked at using my powers. “Of course I’ll wait.” His shoulders relaxed and he nodded his appreciation. I wet my lips and then moved my arm around so that my hand was hidden behind my back, where I crossed my fingers. I will wait, but I might not wait as long as he wants.
Maria Black eyes gleamed behind heavy lids; once so dark no one could discern where the irises ended and the pupils began. Now a cloudy gray fogged over the centers and crow’s feet creased the corners. Full lips frowned, their edges also wrinkled by time’s journey. A silent sigh ensued. I am getting old. Glass clicked against mahogany wood, distracting me from my internal fuss over the reflection in the crystal decanter. The Master had set his chalice on the desktop. It was but a quarter empty yet I filled it to the brim. The blood had returned tight coils of muscle to his bones and a clean pallor to his skin. His frame filled his son’s favorite armchair and the leather creaked as he leaned against the backrest. He was every bit as terrifying and handsome as I remembered him. A single spot the size of a silver dollar above his right breast remained an open wound. He kept it covered with gauze and medical tape and wore a floor-length mink fur coat from his son’s wardrobe. He pushed back a strand of wavy black hair with a single fingernail and then lowered his hand to touch my wrist. My husband’s breath hitched from across the desk. Apollyon smirked. “Calm yourself, Naamah. I was only going to ask your lovely mate to remember to serve our guest.” I glanced at Victor who sat on my husband’s left. My lips twitched as I forced a polite smile onto them and filled his glass. Victor’s back straightened as though he wanted to decline the offer, but he knew as well as any that if the Master said to drink, you drink. He cleared his throat and hastily nodded his thanks. Ignoring him, I walked around to the other side and poured a glass for Naamah. As the red liquid flowed, I squeezed Naamah’s elbow with my free hand and narrowed my gaze at him. Relax, you big oaf. Apollyon steepled his fingers, the long nails clicked against one another. “Now then, let us continue with business. Victor, I know of your Rebel clans and the numbers of men you have turned to our way of thinking. Your loyalty and dedication is the most admirable I have ever seen and for that I will reward you.” Victor grinned and leaned forward. “It is an honor, sir. I told you I would serve you even in death and I never go back on my word—”
Apollyon held up a hand to silence his eager follower. “And so you have proven. I want you by my side as my Second-in-Command again.” I bit the inside of my cheek as I returned to the Master’s side. That back-stabbing criminal didn’t deserve to be a vampyre, much less one of status. If Apollyon managed to take the throne, Victor would be the second most powerful vampyre in all of Scandinavia—a position that, up until now, belonged to my husband. Naamah’s vice grip on his chair’s armrests turned his knuckles a frosty white. If he didn’t check himself, he’d crack the wood soon. Victor grinned from ear to ear as he nodded. “Thank you, sir. It is indeed an honor.” “However,” Apollyon continued. “I agree with Naamah’s argument; now is not the time to call upon the Rebels.” Victor’s eyes widened. “But, sir—” A low growl rumbled through Apollyon’s chest. “They have followed your word for decades while I was dead, they can wait a while longer.” Victor’s brow furrowed as he worked his jaw. “So you are not going to impose war?” “Of course I will,” Apollyon scoffed. “But these things take time and planning. If word of my existence were to spread among the locals, surely the Council and the R.E.D. would hear and both have my head on a platter.” “The Rebels will fight for you—” “They will have their chance,” Apollyon hissed. “But there are other more pressing matters that must be dealt with first.” He brought his chalice to his lips and narrowed his gaze over the rim, daring him to argue further. Victor looked to the side and shifted his weight. Apollyon sat the glass on the desk. “Are you ready to accept your orders as my Hand or was I wrong to believe you were capable of such an honorable service?” Victor studied the wide desktop, looking at no one in particular. A restrained growl carried on his lowered voice. “I will follow your every word, Your Highness.” Apollyon nodded, keeping his eyes trained on Victor. “I require a few personal items lost to me during my death. You will find them all in a chest in Castrum Draconis.” My brow arched at the same time as Victor’s, but I kept quiet. “The castle in Sweden?” he inquired. “The chest is hidden inside the eastern wall of my late wife’s burial chamber. I require you to fetch those items for me immediately.” 14
“Of course.” Victor nodded. Apollyon arched his brow. Victor hesitated, his expression tight. He stood, remembered to bow, and then dispersed into a cloud of black smoke. His essence flew quickly out of the room, filling the air with the bittersweet scent of nitrogen. My shoulders relaxed in his absence. “Naamah.” Apollyon faced my husband. “When Victor returns with my possessions, I will require travel to the land that was once Sumer.” My dear husband kept his expression guarded and slowly shook his head. “Iraq is stricken with human warfare, My Lord. Modern weapons are—” “I am familiar with modern weapons,” Apollyon said between sips of his drink. “That is why I am counting on you for the best possible mode of transportation. Our stay will be brief; only six hours or so.” My hands clenched tight around the crystal pitcher’s handle as my husband glanced at his lap in thought. I wished I knew what the Master was thinking. Returning to his homeland, however briefly, after nearly eight thousand years away, could not be a good sign. As always, Apollyon would likely not tell us his agenda, only what he needed us to do to prepare for it. “An airplane would be the most inconspicuous from here to the Iraqi border,” said my husband. “After that, phasing will be the safest way.” “How much time will the journey require?” “About eight to ten hours from here to the Middle East.” A sinister grin crept across the Master’s face. “Good. When you are done arranging the flight, call the Council members and schedule a mandatory meeting in four days’ time. Speak not of me nor of Victor or of anything else you witness in my presence. Continue your ruse as the Hand of my son. Should they become curious, tell them all will be revealed at the meeting.” Naamah briefly chewed the inside of his cheek and then lowered his head in a half-bow. “Yes, My Lord.” Apollyon waived his hand dismissively. Naamah stood and went to the office door, but hesitated at the threshold and glanced over his shoulder at me. I jerked my chin, gesturing for him to go. “I have chores in the kitchen.”
He hesitated, but left the room. I faced the Master. He rubbed a palm against the plush mink fur over his chest and hissed through his teeth. Why the wound refused to heal was beyond my medical knowledge. It wasn’t infected and it was too shallow to require stiches. He paid me no mind as his hand slid under the thick coat. I held the carafe low, hidden beneath the desk so that he would not notice. Then I phased my little finger. I let my essence stretch thin like a thread and then guided it up the crystal, into the spout, until my invisible molecules touched the surface of the blood inside. I phased the liquid with my touch. “More blood, My Lord? The pitcher is empty, but I can run to the cellar and get more.” “No,” he huffed, still not bothering to look at me. I knew the offer was a long shot. Apollyon never drank alone, and yet I found myself swallowing the disappointment. “Perhaps a new bandage?” “Find other ways to make yourself useful, Maria.” I smiled as bright as I could. “Sir, you gave Naamah’s job to Victor, and my job to Naamah. I’m not sure what that leaves for me.” He snatched my forearm and stood. I tried to phase out of his grip, but his touch kept me solid. We might have been the same age, but I was no match for his strength. He flung me to the floor. I phased the entire crystal pitcher before it could break, but not before its contents spilled across the rug and turned back into a red liquid. His gaze burned and his grip tightened until the bone cracked. I bit back my screams of pain, not wanting Naamah to hear. Apollyon lowered his face to mine and snarled. “Do not think your husband’s pathetic plea will keep me from undoing you, Maria.” He threw my arm against the hardwood floor, the impact sending a surge of hot pain through my whole body. I couldn’t stop the sharp intake of breath that time. He rose slowly, still glaring at me. I remained on my side, but anger burned every follicle in my body. Patience, I told myself. I must have patience. That is how we killed him the first time.
Chapter Two The final drop of blood trickled down the tilted glass and onto my tongue. I licked my lips while swinging my feet under the bar stool like a child as I relished the euphoric energy buzzing in the center of my body. It feverishly spread along my arms and legs, out to my fingers and toes. My chest sucked in a deep contented breath and then exhaled. Jesu leaned against the refrigerator, drink in hand, as he watched me. He’s not guarding the fridge. I tried to convince myself as my upper lip curled. His gaze traced the contours of my body. Those lingering green eyes triggered a carnal urge and my senses opened to him. The sweet smell of spring rain and fresh-cut grass enveloped me. His scent was everywhere, mixed with the usual predatory vampire stench and something else…something faint yet powerful. My eyes lit up as instinct registered the faint scent and sent tingles shooting down to my lady parts. I never realized desire had a smell, but his flesh called to me. My primal instincts screamed for a touch; to hunt and feel my prey succumb to me. No, I can’t. Not with Jesu. My hands wrung as I tore my gaze away. “Are you okay?” I winced, struggling against the horribly wrong urges. “Just peachy.” I tried to think of something to talk about. Anything to take my mind of the bloodlust. “You never finished explaining what the R.E.D. is. I assume it goes deeper than a few rich humans and a vampyre hotel.” Jesu swallowed the last of his drink and then set the glass in the sink. “The idea began as an agreement between Jalmari and King Charles XI of Sweden. Our clan enjoyed peace by living in secret from the humans for about a hundred years prior, but the world was quickly becoming smaller as the human population grew. Jalmari knew we would soon have to come out of hiding, but he did not want it to result in violence.” I bit the inside of my cheek and tried not to scoff. Jalmari not wanting violence, yeah right. “So,” Jesu continued as he came around the bar and sat on a stool next to me. “He took matters into his own hands and went to King Charles. Jalmari proposed that they help each other. They formed an agreement. We would not harm them and they would not harm us. We would continue to be ‘nonexistent’ and they would help provide us with the resources we needed to stay that way.” 17
“I can’t believe Jalmari was able to convince him,” I mumbled. Jesu chuckled. “It was not easy, but it helped that Sweden had recently come out of a long war with the Kalmar Union. They had just gained their independence and were trying to rebuild. The last thing Charles needed was a vampyre threat, so he cooperated. Unfortunately, the agreement did not last. The humans chosen to help us were Charles’ knights and they did not trust us. Plus they aged and died so much faster than we did. It was a hassle trying to convince each new generation. Jalmari gave up until the late 1700s when he heard of a scientist named Carl Linnaeus. Carl was fascinated by our kind and understood our dilemma. It was Carl who thought of the name and officially established the Reclusive Eternal Dragons as a secret fraternity of men specially trained and dedicated to our cause. Now there are R.E.D. branches established all over the world with many divisions and networks all working in secret.” When Jesu finally paused, I realized I could feel the strain in my brow. That’s how wide and taut my eyes were. I shook myself and then leaned my elbows on the counter with a huff. Never mind the fact that yet another semester of my college years was blown to smithereens by what Jesu just said. “You do not believe me,” he teased. “What’s not to believe? A secret society of humans that work for vampyres—” “No.” Jesu’s voice was stern. “They do not work for us, they work with us.” My brow lifted. “What’s the difference?” “There is a delicate balance of laws between the R.E.D. officials and all the Major clans. Remember that small group of very powerful humans that run the R.E.D.? They comply only for the safety of their species, as we comply for the safety of ours. The sole reason the fraternity is successful is because both sides realize the level of chaos that will follow if either side were to breach those laws.” “Right. So the R.E.D. keeps vampyres and vampires a secret by providing them with fancy hotels and co-species night clubs like the one Jalmari took me to?” Jesu frowned. “Club Korento is solely my brother’s idea of a fun investment. But yes, the R.E.D. provides our kind with many services. They aid the locals in housing, finding third-shift jobs, animal and human donor blood, relocation, any number of things that might prove difficult to come by without giving ourselves away to the public.” “And all we have to do is keep our true natures a secret?” 18
“You make it sound easy.” He grinned. “It encompasses a great deal of work.” I shrugged. “I get it; no hurting the humans, no feeding from the source, no using our powers in front of them, etcetera.” No doing what Jalmari and Leena did to me. I cradled my chin in my palms and pouted. Everything about being a vampyre seemed hypocritical. Jesu slid his fingers over my shoulder. My breath hitched as the lust came reeling back. “Hey,” he said. “Would you like to go for a swim?” I slowly pulled away from his touch and tried to stay calm. “Do we have swimming suits?” “There might be a pair in our closets.” “Let’s find out.” I stood and went to my room, glad to put some distance between us. Sure enough, some rummaging around in the drawers uncovered a tiny baby-pink bikini. I cringed and thought of stuffing it in the wastebasket. Who’s the sexist that picked my wardrobe? “Looks like we do,” Jesu yelled from his room. I groaned and debated telling him I didn’t know how to swim, but he’d probably insist on teaching me and then I’d make a bigger idiot of myself for lying. Sighing, I went to the bathroom and searched the cabinets until I found a razor. I quickly shaved my legs and underarms and then changed into the bikini, all while avoiding my reflection in the Hollywood-dressing-room sized mirror. I pivoted into the room and snatched a plain white skirt and a blue flower print tank top and yanked them over the bikini. I dared a quick glance in the mirror and tried not to be mortified. The girly clothes paired with my petite stature made me look like I was thirteen. Whatever, we’re just going for a swim and the exercise might do some good. I grabbed a towel and then exited the room, closing the sliding panel behind me. Jesu waited by the suite door, sporting a pair of red trunks and a black T-shirt. So not fair. We walked in silence along the hall to the elevator and then descended to the third floor. As the doors slid open, an atomic mushroom cloud of chlorine assaulted my nasal cavity. Gasping, I stumbled backward until my spine hit the elevator wall. My hands gripped at my chest and my eyes burned as I desperately tried to suck in oxygen. “Breathe through your mouth.” Jesu kept a finger pressed against the elevator button to hold the doors open while I composed myself. “Is it even safe to swim in that much chlorine?” I protested. 19
“It smells worse than it is.” Jesu placed a hand on the small of my back and led me forward down the hall to a wooden door with a glass windowpane and the word schwimmbad. A single glance through the window proved the pool room was empty but the door was unlocked and we let ourselves in. Like the rest of the hotel, only a few soft tea lights embedded in the high ceiling lit the dim room with a hazy glow. The large pool sat nestled in the center with a low diving board over the far end. The crystalline liquid sloshed lazily against the edges. Gold ribbons of light reflected off the water’s surface and glittered elegantly across the blue walls, flowing as the tiny waves rose and fell like a living pulse. Jesu’s movement broke my trance as he went to one of the plastic lounge chairs and set his towel on it. Then he crossed his arms over his chest and pulled his shirt over his head. My breath hitched at the sight of his lean back muscles flexing, pulling his pale blue skin taut over his spine, curving down into the mounds hidden under his shorts. I glanced away and mentally checked myself. I was certain the bloodlust was gone by now, the chlorine having burned through the last of it. I watched from the corner of my vision as he walked to the pool’s edge and then stepped one foot onto the water’s surface. The lapping waves froze solid under his bare touch. He continued to walk out to the center of the pool, his frozen steps instantly melting behind him. I scoffed and placed my hands on my hips. “Don’t tell me you’re not going to get in the water.” He faced me and grinned. “I will eventually. Join me.” Heat rose to my cheeks and I glanced at the floor. I still didn’t want to be seen in the bikini, but that’s stupid, right? Jesu’s seen me in my underwear a few times and it was quite possible he’d seen me naked too even though he’d sworn he hadn’t. I inhaled a deep breath and then slid the skirt down my hips and pulled off the tank top. My feet crept to the edge of the pool and then stopped. A sly smile twisted my lips as I floated over the water’s surface and joined Jesu in the middle. He chuckled. “I did not think you would do it.” “You’re not the only one with tricks,” I teased. His sideways smile looked bashful as he glanced at my hands and then wrapped his fingers around mine. Before I could ask, he lifted my hands and then draped them against his shoulders. His palms came to rest on my waist and then he pulled me gently to the right in a small circle. 20
I laughed. “We’re dancing?” His grin dimpled his cheek. “Yes.” “There’s no music.” “So?” I couldn’t argue. Nor did I want to. We twirled across the water’s surface, his feet making soft pitter-patters as mine hovered just above. The ribbons of golden light shimmered across the planes of Jesu’s chest, wrapped around his biceps, and sparkled in his deep green eyes. His muscles flexed under my palms as he led me toward the end of the pool near the diving board and then around to the other end. It was easy to let my troubles melt away in this fantasy room, surrounded by liquid blue darkness and glittering gold, dancing over water as if in a dream. A serene fog numbed my mind and I rested my head against Jesu’s chest, facing his neck so I could inhale the sweetened scent of him instead of the chlorine. His hands adjusted to the increased closeness of our bodies by sliding a little tighter around my waist. As if by reflex, my own hands gripped his shoulders a little harder. His even breath and rhythmic pulse played against my ear and I could swear it thumped at the exact same time as the water sloshed at my toes. Even my heart seemed to adjust to the calming vibrations of the room. It’s like we’re one. “Ema?” Jesu’s voice gravely carried a trace of hesitation. “Are you still under the effects of the blood?” I blinked, taken aback by his question, and considered it, but I wasn’t fidgety or wanting to kill anyone. “No…why?” “No reason.” We continued to dance, but I couldn’t focus. Why would he ask about the bloodlust? Did I do something wrong? I mentally ran through all the movements I’d made. Maybe he was timing me to see how long the effects lasted. Maybe he was taking notes for training purposes. It wasn’t until I lifted my head to glance at him that I realized we’d stopped dancing a moment ago. We stood over the center of the pool, exactly where we began, holding each other. His gaze locked on mine. I opened my mouth to ask what we were doing, but my breath caught as his hand came to rest on my cheek. He wet his lips and leaned forward until his nose brushed against mine. His mouth hesitated just over my lips, our breath pooling together. My 21
muscles tensed as realization struck. Suddenly, every bone in my body felt like lead and I dropped like an anvil into the water. Chlorine filled my lungs as the swimming pool swallowed me. Instinct kicked my legs, but I was too disoriented to tell which way the surface was. A pair of strong arms wrapped around my middle, yanked me through the water, and flung me over the tiled edge. I rolled away from the pool and coughed up what tasted like cigarette ashes. My lungs burned as they desperately gasped for air in between sputters. “Are you all right?” I nodded, still trying to heave in oxygen. He helped me sit up and then peeled strands of drenched hair away from my face. “Sorry I did not catch you. You seemed to be doing fine flying on your own.” I could only stare at him in disbelief. Droplets fell from the tips of his eyelashes and ran along his angular cheeks to the corners of his lips. “Jesu, did you…were you about to kiss me?” The pale blue undertones of his complexion brightened and he glanced at his lap. “Ah…yes.” “Why?” He shrugged. “I wanted to.” “But, why?” He faced me and his cheek dimpled in a small smile. “I think it is obvious.” I glanced around, making sure we were still the only ones in the room. “We can’t be together like that, Jesu.” His smile fell. “Why not?” “You know why not.” He chewed his lip and then smoothed a hand over his hair. “Humor me.” My gaze narrowed. He knew exactly why not, why did he have to hear me say it? My voice lowered to a whisper. “We’re related.” He chuckled. “Not really.” My brow arched. “Oh?” “We share one ancestor.” He shrugged. “No big deal.” “He’s your father! I’m practically your niece.” 22
Jesu rolled his eyes. “Ema, you are hardly my niece. There are at least twenty generations between us.” “Yet I still turned into a vampyre, didn’t I?” He shook his head. “That gene came from your father who is not related to my father.” “My mother’s genes sure helped. All my powers come from European clans,” I shouted. I bit my lip to stop. I didn’t understand why we were arguing about this. Jesu was the one who told me I was related to Apollyon in the first place—that made us family. I wasn’t thrilled about it either. I had made a complete ass of myself, throwing myself at him every time the bloodlust overcame me, but he had always warded me off. So what the hell made it different now, a dance around the pool? No, nothing would make it different. Like it or not, we shared DNA. I hugged my knees to my chest. “I’m sorry, Jesu, but we just…can’t.” He scooted to the pool’s edge and then slid into the water. Splashing followed as he swam to the deep end and then started swimming width-wise in short fast laps. Well I’m not going to sit here and feel sorry for myself. I went to the folding chair and pulled on my clothes. Then I took one of the key cards from Jesu’s shirt pocket and marched out the door.
Chapter Three My toes tapped impatiently while waiting for the elevator. It finally dinged and the doors slid open, bringing me face to face with a young vampire waiting to get off. She looked eighteen years old but stood two inches taller than me in chunky black biker boots, forest green capris pants, and a leather vest with the zipper pulled up only halfway, displaying plenty of ample cleavage with no sign of a bra. Her brow arched in regard to my staring. I managed to shut my jaw as she stepped out of the elevator, her waist-length hair flowing in her wake. She looked me up and down and then spoke in a soft French accent. “You must be Prince Jesu’s guest.” “How…how do you know?” She tapped a manicured fingernail against a small golden dragon ring pinned to her vest. “Oh, you work here.” She nodded as she circled me. Her gaze came around again and she studied my face. My shoulders hunched. You made your point, lady. Staring is rude. “Well…nice meeting you.” I stepped around her and pressed the elevator button again, cursing myself for not boarding when I had the chance. “I’ve met you before.” The unexpected statement caused me to spin around and face her. “What?” “Where have I seen you?” I looked her up and down. There was something exotic in her angular features and bowtie lips. Her almond-shaped eyes looked a few shades closer to rust-orange than gold. It was silly to think I might have known her. She was undoubtedly a vampire given the pallor of her skin, the unreal color of her irises, and the scent of predator wafting from every pore on her body. I didn’t need to see her fangs. I doubted she was really eighteen too. “No.” I shook my head. “You must have me confused with someone else.” Her eyes widened and a thought flashed across her features. “Hmm.” I faced the elevator. Open up already. “I am a vampire trainer. I can help you.” My brow quirked, but I kept my gaze locked on the steel double doors. “I know you’re a vampire.” She scoffed. “I mean that I train vampires…to fight.” 24
My breath caught. How could she know I needed that kind of help? “I’m all right, thank you.” “Bien sûr.” She nodded. “If you change your mind, class starts at nine o’clock in zee gymnasium.” The elevator opened. I stepped inside and quickly pressed button number seven, careful to avoid her gaze as I did so. I didn’t relax until the doors shut and the structure lifted. Something about that girl gave me goose bumps. In a way, I was glad for the distraction. I wasn’t as ruffled as I’d been after Jesu’s little scene and I certainly didn’t want to think about what it meant just yet. Instead, I entertained the idea of training with the teenage vampire. I could really use the professional help. Back in the suite, I tossed the key card on the counter and then searched the bathroom until I found some hotel brand shampoo, conditioner, and a bar of soap. I sat all three on the tub’s edge. I started the faucet and plugged the drain, stripped, and then dipped my feet into the rising water. I realized from my slip in the swimming pool that my body was still too numb to gauge temperature, but I still had the memory of taking a hot relaxing bath. I phased my toes. A plume of black smoke appeared under the water where my toes were a second ago. Warm. I sighed, knowing it didn’t matter, and unphased my toes. I washed and rinsed myself, then wrapped a clean terry cloth towel around my torso. Even though I couldn’t feel the sensation of heat or water, the scent of jasmine and aloe was enough to calm my nerves and bring a smile to my face. Much better than smelling like chlorine. My spirits were thwarted by the skirts and rows of flower print in the closet. Groaning, I settled on a red camisole and a black mini skirt with tiny roses. At least the colors were dark, but I wasn’t about to take much more of this. I hung the towel over a bed post then picked up the telephone. My finger hovered over the keypad, not sure how to dial the lobby. After a moment, the dial tone turned into a ring and Kirstin answered. “Hi Kirstin, this is Ema from room seven-fourteen. Can I possibly order some clothes and a pair of sneakers?” “Of course, vat kind would you like?”
I wasn’t sure if they had American brands in Berlin so I figured I had better be descriptive. “Boot-cut blue jeans size four, plain cotton T-shirts in any color except pink in medium, and black canvas sneakers size seven.” I could hear the scratch of pencil against paper on the other end followed by a moment of hesitation. “Do you know vat European sizes you are?” “Ah, no sorry. I’m not familiar with European sizes.” “That is all right, I vill have dee clerk convert dee sizes.” “Thank you.” I placed the phone back in the cradle. At the same time, the suite door rattled and then swung opened. I quickly went to my bedroom door and slid the Oriental pane open. Chlorine scent wrinkled my nose as Jesu entered the hall, leaving a trail of little puddles behind him. He kept his head bowed as he marched straight into his room and then slammed the panel shut. I winced. Did my rejection hurt him that badly? It was easy to forget Jesu’s age. Laws against incest weren’t really enforced until the nineteenth century and European royalty was especially used to marrying their cousins to keep the crown in the family. I cringed at the thought. I couldn’t date an uncle even if Jesu didn’t really feel like my uncle. Heck, he didn’t even feel like a step-uncle. How could he? We’d only met a few months ago and under very unconventional terms. Still, being anything more than friends was too complicated. I just hoped it wouldn’t be awkward between us. I needed his help, and right now I needed to ask him about the vampire trainer. Pipes moaned softly overhead as a spray of water hit a hard surface and I realized that Jesu was taking a shower. In my mind’s eye, I saw every bead of water explode on contact over his sculpted shoulders, run the length of his chest, and fall from his abs—just like they had after he’d pulled me out of the swimming pool. Damn it. Thanks to enhanced vampyre vision, that image committed itself to my memory. I shook myself and then glanced at the digital clock on the nightstand. It read 7:45, plenty of time to go for a walk and talk to Jesu later, when he was dressed. I went to the kitchen, grabbed my key card, and then left. My hand hovered over the buttons in the elevator, not sure where I wanted to go. Finally, I decided to head to the lobby to ask Kirstin when I could expect my order.
Moments later, the elevator doors slid open and a salty metallic scent shot through the air. My senses kicked into ultra-high gear. Every fiber of my being tingled to life and I shuddered in longing. A single thought sliced through the forefront of my mind. Human blood. A girl, about ten-years-old, sat behind the large reception desk, kicking her legs to the beat pouring from her earphones. Delicate hands gripped the desk’s edge and she spun herself around in the leather chair. Her golden hair spread like a fan in the air. Another wave of her scent hit me. I inhaled deeply. My eyelids fluttered and my fingers arched. I exhaled, my whole body trembling with the need to taste this little creature’s life. In a blink, I stood in front of her, behind the desk. She gasped as little hands slapped over her mouth. I reached out and took a lock of her hair between my fingers. She smelled like baby powder and flesh—and something else, something faintly predatory buried deep within her veins, but still present. I wrinkled my nose. “Mama!” Kirstin poked her head from around the corner of the opposite hall. When she noticed me, she ran in a flash to the girl’s side and yanked her out of the chair. She positioned herself in front of the girl and sneered. “May I help you?” The girl peeked at me, her chocolate eyes dilated. She wrinkled her nose and raised her lip, flashing a set of tiny pointed teeth. My voice came forth in a whisper. “What is she?” The woman lifted her chin and pushed the girl back a step. “She is my daughter.” “She’s not human.” Her eyes narrowed and she whipped a few stray hairs behind her ear. “Of course not. Even if she were, vat you were about to do is an act of crime.” The urges dimmed with our swift conversation but they were still present, the craving an achy thirst deep within my gut. I blinked several times and then tore my attention away from the little girl. “I’m sorry.” Kirstin’s shoulders relaxed in a sigh, but she still held her daughter firmly behind her. “That is all right. Is there anything I can help you vith?” “Yes.” I blinked again, remembering why I came to the lobby. “I was just wondering how long it would take until my clothes and shoes came.” She grinned. “You could have phoned to ask.” 27
“I needed the walk.” “Our night-shift receptionist, Heidi, offered to bring them. She starts in an hour.” “Perfect, thank you, and I’m very sorry if I scared your daughter.” Kirstin smiled and glanced at the girl. “It’s all right. I shouldn’t have brought her to work. Her father is supposed to vatch her, but you know how husbands can be.” That sounded so normal, like a regular soccer mom. “I should go.” I bounded back for the elevator, which opened before I could press the button. I doubted Jesu was done with his shower, but I decided I could stand to wait in the suite for him. We had so much to talk about. The suite smelled heavily of spring rain with a hint of mint shampoo. I gently closed the door behind me and then faced our little mansion. Jesu paced across the living room area with a cellphone pressed to his ear. His damp jet-black tresses hung limp over his shirtless torso. Tiny pearls of water dripped from the velvet tips and glided slowly down his firm backside, catching the glow of the tea lights and reflecting rainbows of color like they were drops of melted crystal. Oh, for God’s sake! As if he could hear my thoughts, his head turned a fraction in my direction and then did a double take. His gaze traced the neckline of my camisole and then traveled slowly down the short skirt length to my bare legs. I groaned in annoyance. He sighed and flipped his phone shut. “Who was that?” “No one. Where did you go?” “For a walk.” I shrugged. “I met Kirstin’s daughter. Where did you get the cellphone?” Jesu blinked, his expression thoughtful. “I did not know she had a daughter.” I sighed at his deliberate decision to avoid my question about the phone. “She looks like she’s only ten-years-old and she smells like a human and a vampyre.” “She probably just hit puberty and is changing,” he mumbled to himself. My gaze narrowed as I realized the distant look in his eyes. I joined him near the couch, my concern getting the better of me. “Jesu, are you okay?” He leaned against the armrest and sighed. “I might as well tell you.” My brow furrowed in foreboding. “Tell me what?” “I received a voice mail message from Fredrick av Draken, the Swedish Arm—” “What’s a Swedish Arm?” 28
Jesu shook his head as though he just now remembered I wasn’t familiar with the whole vampyre world. “The Arms help oversee countries that lie within a clan’s territory on the ruler’s behalf. They are sort of like…how are they called…sheriffs. Fredrick’s district is Sweden.” “I thought the Neo-Draugrian clan only covered Finland.” His gaze locked on mine for a moment and then flickered to the side. “Our clan is made up of Sweden and Norway too.” I shrugged. “Okay, so what did this Fredrick guy say?” “Apparently Naamah called a mandatory Council meeting to take place in four days.” A small bout of panic constricted my chest. “So you have to go back to Finland?” Jesu smirked. “Ema, I have never been to a single Council meeting. I am not a vampyre, remember? I have no voice there. Fredrick tried to contact me because they cannot get a hold of Jalmari and Naamah refuses to give them any more information.” I sighed in relief, but it was short-lived as realization struck. “You think Apollyon is really the one calling the meeting?” “Yes. I did not think he would act so soon. He is not wasting any time.” “Then we shouldn’t waste time either. Jesu, they have a professional trainer here. I met her on my way up from the poolroom. I think—” “You met Bridget?” “Huh? Wait, you know her?” His complexion paled and he looked away. “I am sure you think that would be a good idea, but it isn’t.” “Of course it’s a good idea. It’s the best idea either of us has had since we got here.” He glared at me, his irises glimmering like emerald fire under a stern-set brow. “Ema, I cannot allow you to train with Bridget.” My arms crossed over my chest. “I’m sorry, did you just say wouldn’t allow me? Since when do I need your permission?” “There is more taking place than you realize.” My jaw gnashed together and I spoke through my fangs. “Enlighten me.” He took a deep breath and kept his voice even. “The Council still does not know about Apollyon. They think something has happened to Jalmari. I would tell them the truth myself but I worry for your safety and will not contact them. If my brother was to tell them—” 29
I tossed my arms into the air and scoffed. “Please. Wherever Jalmari went, he’s either mourning Leena’s death or he’s totally drunk on freedom. Either way, we can’t wait for him. Besides, that doesn’t explain why you don’t want me to train. What about your premonition?” His gaze narrowed. “What about your promise to wait?” “You asked me to wait and learn, but you’re not letting me learn, Jesu.” He glanced to the side in hesitation. “You can train, just not with Bridget. The less people who know what you are, the better, remember?” “I’m not stupid, Jesu. If she asks, I’ll just say I’m Neo-Draugrian. I have all the same powers Jalmari does.” “In addition to a few extra,” he emphasized. He stood and closed the gap between us. I had the urge to back away, but I stood my ground. “Besides,” his left cheek dimpled in a grin. “You are horrible at lying. Even a stranger knows when you lie.” My eyes narrowed. “You know I can phase. That means you can’t stop me from going.” All signs of teasing vanished, replaced by a stern scowl as Jesu put his hands on his hips and pressed his lips together in a hard line. My brow arched in mock challenge. I made a one-eighty degree turn on the ball of my foot and then marched straight past the suite door, into the hallway, without opening it.
Maria My weight sank an inch into the cotton comforter as I lounged across the bed. Naamah’s back faced me from across the room. He sat hunched over the small writing desk along the far wall of our bedchamber, his eyes glued to the laptop screen. The arm Apollyon broke lay cross my chest and I caressed it over the silk fabric of my blouse. The bone had already healed. Only the slightest of discoloration remained. Still, I kept my sleeves pulled down to my palms and refrained from fussing over the dull ache. Curiosity picked at my thoughts. I mentally gauged the repercussions of voicing said thoughts. My eyes closed and I listened carefully, casting my senses out of the room, past the third wing, through the castle. The Master was a silent man when left to his own devices, but his pulse could be traced just like any other. I felt him deep in the fourth wing. My eyes opened. What is he doing in Jesu’s part of the castle? “Why do you suppose he wants to go to Sumer?” I whispered. “I do not know,” answered my husband without deterring from his work. “He never went back before…not once. Don’t you think it’s odd?” “We don’t know for certain that he never went back.” Naamah tapped fiercely across the keyboard. If I was honest with myself, I would admit I was jealous of my husband’s ability to evolve with technology. He was better at keeping up with human advancements than I was. When I looked at his broad shoulders stuffed into a very modern button-down shirt, I couldn’t help thinking of the man who used to run through the jungle terrain nude, hunting with only his hands and teeth, his agile body a machine driven by muscle and instinct. He used to crouch over his kill the same way he hunched over that laptop. He was a different man then; a simple man, with a wife and a tribe that respected him. He still had that respect from his colleagues, but the hunter was gone. The carefree simplicity was gone. With the Master around, things were worse. His thoughts weren’t where they should be. It had taken Naamah a long time to come to terms with what Apollyon had done to our family. Eventually he was able to move on, but his spirit was forever broken. “I hate Victor,” I said, almost to myself. “You know what will happen as soon as the Rebels see their ‘god’ in the flesh.” “Be glad Apollyon has no interest in them.” 31
I sat upright and glared at my husband. “Don’t be imprudent, love. You know the Master never goes anywhere without an army. He may not show interest in them now, but he will. It is almost as if that bastard Victor knew the Master would be back—” “Victor could not have known.” Naamah stopped what he was doing just long enough to glance at me. “I have seen quite a few of those Rebels and they are far too young to have had a taste of warfare like the kind Apollyon renders. They will realize they are in over their heads and then run back to their mother’s skirts.” “If they get a chance,” I muttered. Naamah pretended not to hear me and went back to clicking away on the computer. I sighed and lowered onto my back. “Do you think Jesu and Ema are well?” My darling husband chuckled. “I am positive they are fine, being watched by both the R.E.D. and the Alpans.” My fingers trailed absently over my post-injured arm. “They’re not being watched very closely. I worry about Bridget. She could…complicate things.” Naamah shook his head. “Bridget is a professional.” He typed a moment longer and then closed his laptop. “Does that mean it’s done?” “I am afraid so.” He nodded. “I’ve arranged for a small commercial plane. It will have enough power to get us there in one trip, non-stop.” I rolled onto my side so that I faced him and smiled. “Well then, won’t you join your mate for a moment?” Naamah scoffed but then met my smile with one of his own. “I am supposed to alert the Master when I am done.” “Your company will calm my nerves.” He rose from his seat and then came to kneel at the edge of the bed. I wrapped my arms around his neck and our lips met. His scent of earthly sandalwood and almond enveloped my body, bringing soothing memories of our first home together off the Aegean Sea. I knew it had been a small hut, resolute with only the essentials. I knew we loved it, loved our life together, if not for any other reason than the fact that we knew of no other way. But when I tried to recall the specifics…building the walls, what our marital bed looked like, the faces of the other tribe members, my friends, what their names might have been…my thoughts halted with haunting 32
memories of warfare and the things that came after. So I’d stopped trying and enjoyed the simple bliss of my husband’s comforting scent. The atmosphere shifted and a stench like sour milk pulled me away from my husband. “Victor’s back,” I breathed with disdain. “So he is.” Naamah sighed. “We should tell the Master his flight is in order.” Naamah fixed a hard glare at me. “No, I should go tell the Master his flight is in order. You should stay here.” “Oh nonsense, the man flew to Sweden and back in one evening, I’m sure he’s thirsty.” “Maria,” my husband scolded. “Darling,” I mocked. He rolled his eyes and pushed off the bed. We phased together into the hall just outside the Master’s study and then solidified. Naamah knocked and then waited for the Master’s cue before entering. Victor already sat before the grand desk, opposite Apollyon. Between them sat a large leather chest covered in a thick layer of dirt and pebbles. I winced at the scratches it caused to the polished wood and almost hoped Jalmari would never return to see it. “My Lord.” Naamah bowed. “All the preparations have been made as you commanded.” “Would you care for a drink, sir?” I added, looking for any excuse to go to the cellar and fix something special for His Majesty. He’d never drink it though. Not unless my husband drank it first. Apollyon waved a hand, dismissing my offer. His attention locked on the chest. He stood and unlatched the stays then gently lifted the massive lid. Debris littered the floor as the lid came to hang like a hood behind the body of the chest. I rose onto my tiptoes, but I could not see what lay inside from my position near the door. Everyone in the room held their breath as Apollyon reached in and pulled out an ancient canopic jar. With a gentleness I didn’t know the Master possessed, he removed the ceramic lid from the jar and glanced inside. His eyes widened in shock and a growl rumbled past his teeth. I glanced at Naamah, upping my brow in question. He shrugged in response. The Master pulled out a second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth jar. He removed the lids one at a time and each time his disappointment deepened. After the sixth jar, Apollyon swept his arm
across the desk, flinging all six ceramic containers across the room. They shattered on contact with the floor, red dust exploding from their centers. Dried blood, I realized. The jars were urns. “You,” Apollyon roared as he pointed a sharp fingernail at my husband. Naamah’s back stiffened. “Yes, sir?” “We must make a stop in Egypt before we arrive in Sumer. It appears I am in need of a few alternative ingredients.” Naamah bowed. “Are these ingredients anything I can buy in the city or order through the Internet instead?” Apollyon narrowed his gaze and then lowered to a sit in the leather office chair. He clicked his fingernails together two at a time. “I do not know,” he finally said. “Can you buy six Egyptian cobras with their fangs and venom glands still intact?” My breath caught. I squeezed my lips together, hoping no one noticed my little outburst of revelation, but I was too late. Apollyon looked at me with a specific gleam in his demon-red eyes and then winked. Naamah blanched. “I…I will…find out, My Lord.” Apollyon nodded and Naamah turned to make his exit. This time I followed him. I waited until we were inside our bedchamber and then closed the door and reminded myself to keep my voice low. “He’s going to raise the dead!” “I know,” my husband said as he sat at his laptop. “The question now is who?” “He’s looking for allies.” “In someone buried in Iraq?” I shook my head. “No, he spent his whole life running from his home clan. He wouldn’t go back there now just for allies.” Naamah’s fingers paused over the keyboard and he pursed his lips. “Yes he would. He refused the Rebels because they know this world. They know full well what peace is like and they’ve never had to fight for it. Apollyon doesn’t trust them and he’s definitely not impressed with them. He wants men who know nothing but war, whose hatred for humans is real and not just a political squabble. He’s raising first generation vampyres that are too separated from the modern world to care what happens to it.” 34
The color drained from my face as I considered my husband’s words. “Let’s hope Ema progresses before this gets out of hand.”
Chapter Four The elevator’s cavity descended a few floors lower than I expected. I glanced at the button panel. The labels only showed one floor beneath the lobby. My hands wrung over each other and I sucked in a deep breath. Walking away from Jesu was probably stupid, but he was so stubborn. The chamber stilled and the doors slid open, depositing me directly into a large warehouse-like edifice. I gulped as I stepped past the threshold into a vast gymnasium. A green traction mat cushioned my strides. Agility equipment spread over the middle of the room encompassed by a running track. Beyond that, synthetic climbing rocks textured the far wall up to the ceiling where lumber planks hung from metal chains. Rope weaved along the wood pieces creating an airborne obstacle course. A heavy grunt followed by the rapid smack of padded canvas turned my attention to the boxing ring on the left. The teenage vampire trainer bobbed back and forth in the corner in front of an abused punching bag. She thrust her fist at the hard plastic, sending it reeling through the air. I realized with a start that she wasn’t wearing any boxing gloves. The chain from which the bag hung groaned as if it had the wind knocked out of it. I winced in pity for the poor inanimate object. Gravity swung the punching bag in her direction. She twisted around and lowered her torso while lifting her leg and thrusting her heel in a fierce kick. Her boot sole made contact with the bag’s middle and the plastic burst open, revealing its padded innards. My breath hitched. When the chain brought the poor thing back for more, she caught and stilled it. “I didn’t think you’d come.” Her French accent colored her words. I sighed and tried to relax my stance. “I admit Jesu didn’t really want me to.” She faced me and her gaze narrowed. “Prince Jesu.” My brow cocked, unsure if that was a question or a statement. “Yeah.” “Good thing he’s not your sire.” Her lean hips swung as she abandoned the punching bag and came toward me. Her rustorange gaze locked on mine as she raised a brow and then pulled her waist-length hair into a ponytail. My fingers fidgeted and I glanced around the gymnasium. We were the only two present, but I was fifteen minutes early. “Are other students coming?” 36
“Not any of mine.” I sighed—happy I wouldn’t have an audience to embarrass myself. “So which clan are you from?” “I’m not from a clan,” I blurted out. I immediately cringed at my error. Oops. She scoffed and put her hands on her hips. “You’re not used to being affiliated with a clan, but you soon will be. It is like asking what country you’re from.” I glanced at the ceiling for a moment and silently thanked God that she took my mistake for lack of understanding. “I am Bridget du Loup of zee Alpan clan,” she said and then waited expectantly. I cleared my throat and recited what was sort of the truth. “I’m Ema. Ema Marx. From the Neo-Draugrian clan.” She smirked and shook her head. “Lose your last name. It’s meaningless now. From now on, your house name is zee dragon. That is what all zee Neo-Draugrians call themselves.” I knew Jesu’s and Jalmari’s last name, Korento, meant dragon in Finnish. My nose wrinkled as I tried it. “Ema Dragon?” Nope. The name felt weirder than nailing Jell-O to a wall. “Zee worst trois things a vampire can do are go rogue, join zee Rebel clans, or try to start your own clan. Of course, a vampire cannot do these things without permission from their sire, but your sire doesn’t seem to be around.” She looked me up and down. I held my breath and hoped she wouldn’t ask where my sire was. I didn’t have one because I was really a vampyre, and I wasn’t entirely sure I belonged to any clan because both my parents were human. They’d both had vampyre ancestors somewhere along the line, but where did that leave me? Growing up human and totally ignorant up until a few months ago, that’s where. My face must have turned blue because Bridget narrowed her eyes. I was so sure the next words out of her mouth were going to be “stop lying,” but instead she turned away and gestured for me to follow. “Come on, let’s see what you got.” I released my breath and then followed her to the boxing ring, ducking under the rope. We stood in the center, facing each other. Bridget lowered into a fighting stance that made my human side nervous and my nephilim side excited. Combined, I wanted to throw up. “Hit me,” she commanded. “I beg your pardon?” 37
“Just hit me.” “No.” “Come on,” she scoffed. “You won’t hurt me.” I glanced at her rock-solid biceps, clenched abs, and bulging calves. “That’s so not what I’m worried about.” She rolled her eyes. “I won’t hit you back. Just try to punch me.” “Fine.” I clenched my right fist and swung. She leaned out of reach and I missed. “Keep going.” I shrugged and then swung with my left. She effortlessly dodged the punch by twisting two inches to the right. “Are you putting any effort into this at all?” “Sorry,” I mumbled. “Try to hit me.” I sucked in a deep breath and clenched my jaw. Okay, nephilim Ema, let’s do this. I came at her and swung harder, but she was fast and managed to duck from my every move as we danced around the ring. “Speed is every vampire’s single most important strength. We rely on it to prevent and escape from disaster.” She said this while avoiding my fists. “Alpan vampires cannot fly or phase. So we rely on speed even more so.” “Wait.” My fists dropped in surprise. “You can’t fly or phase?” How was she going to train me? Bridget dropped to the floor in a blur of motion and then kicked my legs out from under me. I felt the fall, felt my muscles tense, my hair float up to block my vision. My arms extended to break the impact. The floor came within an inch of my nose when a sudden force gripped my shoulders and then pulled me upright. I jerked out of her grasp. “What the hell was that about?” “A lesson in speed,” she said simply. “I killed you and saved your life in under a second. You failed to even touch me. You’re slow and easily distracted.” Her voice grew sterner as she continued. “You walk around objects when you could phase or fly over them. You act entirely human.” Great, I winced. She’s going to tell me to get the heck out of her class. “That’s good.” My eyes widened. “I’m sorry, did you just say ‘that’s good’?” 38
Bridget nodded. “Zee more human you appear, zee more inconspicuous you will be. Trust me, you do not want zee humans to know what you are.” “I know,” I mumbled, still thinking something wasn’t quite right. “You have a lot to learn” She sighed. “Every vampire needs to know how to survive. Normally your sire would teach you, but…” I couldn’t help glancing away when she mentioned the sire thing again. “We’ll begin with a crash-course tomorrow.” “Tomorrow?” My attention snapped. “Why not now, today?” She smirked and then gestured at my clothes. “You can’t train in a skirt and ballet flats. You need proper attire; loose pants and a strong pair of work boots.” Heat rose to my cheeks as I realized how right she was. I should have at least waited for Heidi to deliver my jeans and sneakers. “Okay, I’ll get the clothes and meet you back here tomorrow?” She nodded. “À bientôt, Ema of the Dragon.” **** The elevator released me at the lobby and I entered cautiously in case Kirstin and her daughter were still around, but their scents had faded; replaced by another. The night-shift receptionist, Heidi, looked like a younger and rounder version of Kirstin. Her black slacks and a matching jacket gave her a sophisticated vibe from the side view. Unfortunately, as I approached the desk, I was met with the low cut neckline of her cherry red blouse. It did little to keep her large bust from spilling. She had two thin lines for eyebrows and mauve-colored eye shadow that matched her nail polish. “You must be Ema,” she said in fast, near-perfect English. “Your package was delivered to your room. Prince Jesu received it for you. I hope everything is to your satisfaction.” “Oh, I haven’t been to my room yet.” “Training with Bridget?” She plunked an elbow onto the desk’s top and supported her chin in her palm like she was settling in for a long conversation. Her cleavage bulged like bunched up pillows between her arms. I blinked to the side. “Yes, I—” “Boy,” she sighed. “My cousin was right about you. You’re so pretty. Just look at you, a skinny thing in that skirt. You’re such a doll.” 39
My brow quirked. Heidi could talk a mile a minute. “Thank you. Who’s your cousin?” “Oh, Kirstin, the morning receptionist, she doesn’t speak very good English I know. Boy everyone was right about you. News traveled fast around here. When we heard Prince Jesu was coming with a guest there was a rumor that maybe he decided to sire a vampire, but Kirstin said Prince Jesu would never do such a thing. He’s aware of the law after all, but we all thought maybe, but then you came and I heard you were definitely not his and now I can see it’s plain that you aren’t.” I stepped back, not sure what to make of this information or if I had even followed her correctly. “Okay…well…I need to order a pair of sweatpants and work boots for training.” “Oh sure,” Heidi said, but she didn’t move or do anything else to suggest she had even heard me. She just sighed and stared dreamily. Maybe she envied my waist? Well that was fine, I envied her boobs. I was about to leave when she added, “Are you dating?” “I beg your pardon?” “That’s one of the other rumors.” She switched elbows and cradled her chin in her other hand. Heat rose to my cheeks. “Not that it’s anyone’s business, but no, we’re not dating. Jesu is my…” I was about to say “friend,” but I knew how much speculation that simple word could feed to the bored female staff. At the same time, I wasn’t sure what effect the word “family” would have. Jesu was obviously well-known. A random new branch in the family tree might raise questions and I was supposed to be keeping a low profile. “He’s just helping me with a few things.” She immediately slammed both palms on the desk, making me jump, and then leaned forward, eyes wide, grin stretching from ear to ear. “Are he and Bridget back together?” My spine stiffened. “Bridget du Loup, the trainer?” Heidi’s gaze brightened. “They had a thing a few hundred years ago. They were such a perfect couple, the talk of the clan, everyone thought they would mate for life did you know?” “No, I didn’t know.” If there was a sting in my tone, I couldn’t help it. Is that the real reason he is against me training with Bridget? He doesn’t want me hanging out with his ex. “She’s a sweet woman too. No one knows why they broke up. They both are pretty private people, but there are all sorts of delicious rumors.”
I winced, positive I did not want to hear what rumors Heidi and her friends had come up with about that. “I have to go.” I walked away without looking back and then punched the elevator button. I knew it was rude, but I didn’t care. Inside the edifice I thought about the lean, muscly teenage-looking vampire I had just talked to not more than twenty minutes ago. Jesu went out with her, of all people? When? For how long? What did he see in her? Did he love her? Why did they break up? Would they get back together now? More importantly, why did I care? Jesu is a grown man, he can date who he wants. It isn’t any of my business. The doors opened and my feet carried me down the hall of their own accord. I hesitated in front of the suite door, undecided if I should even mention any of what Heidi said. My chest sucked in a deep breath and then I phased into the room. Jesu sat on the couch’s center in the sunken living room. A German game show played on the flat screen television, but his attention was on his cellphone’s screen. He flipped the phone closed as I sat next to him. “That was a short lesson.” “It wasn’t a lesson at all,” I sighed. “We’re starting the real work tomorrow, after I get some proper clothes to train in.” “By the way, a whole bag of new clothes came for you. I put them on your bed.” “Thanks. I hope you don’t mind me ordering them.” “Not at all, order anything you need.” He stood and then pocketed the cellphone. “I am not happy that you went to training despite me asking you not to.” “Jesu,” I gave him a side-long glance. The topic of ex-girlfriends balanced on the tip of my tongue, but I held back and forced myself to swallow it. Not my business. “I need as much help as I can get. It would be stupid not to take advantage of what Bridget can teach me.” He held up both hands, palms forward. “I know; you are absolutely right.” I blinked. “Well…of course I’m right.” “You told her you are Neo-Draugrian?” “Yes.” I nodded. “She didn’t question you?” “No, she didn’t ask me anything about myself. She didn’t even ask why I was with you instead of a sire.” 41
“Okay.” He sighed in relief. “Then you will only get half the training you need. We will practice your other powers here.” A smile inched across my features. “Really?” “Absolutely.” He nodded. “You still need to work on your bat form.” I groaned. “A wolf can do more damage.” He chuckled. “All right, wolf it is.” “Don’t hold back,” I warned as I stood and took a few steps away to give myself space. Then I shifted. Cartilage and bone snapped as my limbs elongated and the joints bent in the opposite direction. My ears moved to the top of my head and grew to a point as my jaw extended into a snout. Thick tufts of gray fur sprouted from my skin, covering my whole body. I shimmied out of my clothes and kicked them into a corner with my back paws. Wolves were color-blind and I blinked a few times to get used to the blue-green sight. My hearing and sense of smell, however, heightened further than that of a vampire’s and the muscle tone gave a sense of power even as it forced me onto all fours. Jesu backed away several steps and then crouched. His gaze narrowed and he growled playfully. I growled back, signaling that I was ready for him. The nephilim blood in me clawed its way to the surface, begging to be released. I held it in check, not wanting to get carried away, but I listened to it; listened to my instincts. Go for the throat. All four legs launched me forward. Jesu came at me at the same time. I aimed for his shoulder and jumped, certain I had him. He twisted around and dropped while wrapping his arms around my neck and pulling me onto my side as we both fell over. I tried to get loose, but he held me in a headlock. “Yes, I see.” He chuckled. “Lots of damage in this form. A real attack dog.” He let go. I backed away and then shook myself. “Again,” he demanded and then charged. My instincts screamed as I went for his right ankle. He sidestepped me, grabbed the scruff of my neck, and yanked me away. Frustration burned through me. I huffed and then lunged at him. This time I kept my head up and nipped at his fingers, but he was fast and dodged my teeth. I remembered Bridget saying how important speed was for vampires. Jesu would have aced that test. My imagination conjured an image of Jesu and Bridget running through the woods
together. A knot suddenly twisted my stomach. I stopped what I was doing and my butt dropped to the floor in a sit. Jesu quirked his brow in disbelief. “Tired already?” I didn’t know what to say, not because I literally could not speak as an animal. “Come,” he said, and then slid open my bedroom door so I could go inside and shift in privacy. “I will fix us a drink while you dress.” I obeyed and as soon as he closed the door I transformed back to my two-legged self. The scent of blood ebbed its way from the kitchen into my nose and my mouth watered. I scrambled to redress, ripping open the plastic bag on my bed and pulling on the first top and pair of jeans. I paused for a moment to lavish in the comfort of denim around my legs before shoving my feet into socks and—hallelujah—black sneakers. Then I booked it to the kitchen. “Sip it,” Jesu warned as he handed me a glass of thick red liquid. I rolled my eyes and took a long swig, savoring the salty-metallic flavor and the buzz of energy that followed. “That exercise was fun.” He nodded. “Maybe next time you will manage to bite me, or at least graze my skin.” I scoffed. You’d like that. I stared at the glass for a moment while entertaining the idea, and then shook myself. Is the bloodlust in effect already? “Is something wrong? You are not trying to inhale your drink as you normally do.” “Oh…” I shrugged. The urge to hunt for sexual gratification quickly took over my mind. I craved Jesu’s touch, for him to hold me close the way he had when we’d danced across the swimming pool’s surface, and in other more carnal ways. I gnashed my teeth together and fought the feelings. I thought of going to my room to put distance between us, but I worried that if I moved it would be to pounce on him, and this time it wouldn’t be as a wolf. “Are the effects… Is it becoming easier?” He studied me and his lingering gaze only made matters worse. I shook my head. “Oh.” His gaze fell and he cleared his throat. “Well…I think I will go for a swim.” He stood and went to his room to change. The fact that he didn’t ask if I wanted to join him wasn’t lost to me. It took every ounce of self-control I could muster to stand and go to my room, bringing my drink with me. I closed the door and then waited. Eventually Jesu’s footsteps shuffled across the suite and then into the hall. As soon as the suite door’s latch clicked home, I 43
chugged the rest of the blood and then collapsed into bed and closed my eyes as the euphoria took me.
Chapter Five Kirstin delivered the sweatpants and work boots early the next morning. Jesu spent most of the day swimming. He was a man of the elements and I could tell he liked to be surrounded by nature, even when “nature” was a giant tub of chemicals. I lounged around the suite, bored to tears until the digital clock on my nightstand showed 8:50. I hopped into the gray sweats, pulled on a black T-shirt, shoved my feet into the new boots, and then flew—literally—to the elevator. The doors finally released me in the gymnasium and I glanced around for Bridget. “Up here,” she called. My gaze traveled to the airborne jungle gym that could give wet dreams to a circus acrobat. Bridget stood as poised as a ballerina on one of the suspended two-by-fours with her hands on her hips. “I brought you a few things.” She pointed to the left corner of the room. I followed her line of sight from the ceiling to the floor and noticed a duffle bag resting against the boxing ring. I went to it and unzipped the bag. Inside were several thick text books. I pulled them out one at a time and read the titles. Vampyre World History: Volumes I, II, and III, Vampire Social Studies for the Twenty-First Century, and The Reclusive Eternal Dragons Society Field Guide: Vampire Edition. “Read them later,” she said, and then she dove off the wooden beam. My breath hitched as she did a summersault in the air before landing smack on the balls of her feet. “Viens, to zee boxing ring.” My brow quirked as she passed me. If Jesu was like any other male in the world, I could see where the initial attraction stemmed from. She had the physique of a young gymnast. I followed while hovering over the floor, not sure who I was trying to impress since Bridget had her back to me, but hey, she couldn’t fly, so take that. She sat in the center of the boxing ring’s cushioned platform, folding her legs Indianstyle. Then she patted the space in front of her, signaling for me to do the same. “We will begin each day with a lesson in meditation. Zee key to survival for us is prevention. Clearing zee mind allows for better focus. Zee alignment with one’s environment begins with zee alignment of one’s self. When zee mind is at peace, zee body becomes a conductor from which to draw power as well as banish power.” 45
I didn’t quite follow what she meant, but I kept my mouth shut and mirrored her movements as she straightened her spine, rested her hands against her thighs, palm-up, and pressed her pointer-fingers to her thumbs. “Clearing zee mind can take several minutes for beginners, but with practice you can find inner peace instantly and harvest it even in zee most pressing of circumstances. Try it with me, in through zee nose and out through zee mouth.” She proceeded to close her eyes and take exaggerated breaths. I knew I couldn’t breathe like that without giggling, so I just closed my eyes. If I relaxed enough, I would’ve turned into an invisible cloud of smoke, but I didn’t think phasing was the point of this exercise. Clearing my mind only left space for a whole other stream of thoughts. Where in heck was Jalmari? Did I remember to apply deodorant this morning? My toes twitched. Then the space between my fingers itched. I held my breath, but the itch didn’t stop so I scratched. After what felt like an hour, but was probably a minute, I opened my eyes. Bridget sat ramrod straight, her eyelids closed. Her slim nostrils flared as she inhaled. Her bowtie lips parted a moment later to exhale. I noticed she had a strange birthmark on the side of her neck just above the base of her shoulder. No, not a birthmark—a tattoo. Inscribed on her skin in what looked like a jailbait hack-job were the numbers 978177. Bridget’s eyes snapped open and I gasped. At some point, I had leaned very close to get a better look at the tattoo and now my nose was less than an inch from touching hers. “Ema, what are you doing?” “Sorry,” I mumbled and leaned back. She sighed and then stood and went to the edge of the boxing ring. “Beyond these walls you cannot use your powers. Even zee slightest hint that you are not human will earn you a onehundred-year exile while zee R.E.D. cleans up your mess, and they do not like cleaning our messes.” “One hundred years seems a bit harsh.” I stood and tugged on my shirt, smoothing it over my hips. “What kind of mess could possibly deserve—” Bridget screamed like a banshee and then charged straight at me. I froze like a deer caught in headlights and then did the first thing I could think of and phased. Heat rippled over my molecules as she stormed through my essence. When the heat passed, I turned to face her and then solidified. 46
“That is zee kind of mess that will get you in trouble.” “I wouldn’t do that in public,” I promised. “You might not mean to, but it’s a reflex. Vampires have a very high self-preservation mechanism. That is why meditation and prevention are key. Now let’s try again. This time, keep your mind clear and try to perceive my movements. If you fail to dodge me trois times, you will owe me five hundred laps around zee track, comprendre?” **** After the four-hundred-and-ninety-ninth lap around the gymnasium I realized that trois was the French word for three. I wondered what the French translation was for I officially don’t like that bitch. The running didn’t bother me. In fact, running laps was the first exercise I’d done correctly all night. I broke a sweat and a pleasant ache burned through my calves, but I knew from my time in the underworld that it took a much larger amount of toil to tire out a vampire. I wasn’t even winded yet. I didn’t see how mediation or prevention would help me defeat Apollyon. Fundamentals were important, but couldn’t I learn the fundamentals of sword wielding or gun shooting or even Karate? In all honesty, though, I wasn’t mad at Bridget. I was frustrated that I couldn’t master something as simple as dodging her. If I couldn’t do that, then what chance did I have with Apollyon? No wonder she didn’t start me off with a weapon. She must think I’d poke an eye out. Bridget stood near the elevator doors with the duffle bag hanging from her shoulder, text books in tow. I finished the final lap and then came to a halt before her. “Are we going somewhere?” I asked while bending to rub my calves. Now that I had stopped, my legs suddenly felt gelatinous. “To zee weight room,” she announced. The doors dinged and then opened. Bridget gestured with a jerk of her chin for me to follow. The elevator carried us to the floor with the pool room. I prepared myself mentally for the harsh chlorine scent and breathed through my mouth. The weight room was a little ways past the swimming pool room. Once inside, the chemical stench lessened to a tolerable amount. We began with the bench press. I helped Bridget secure two twenty-five-kilogram weights on both ends of the barbell. She spotted me while I lay against the bench and lifted the
barbell out of the overhead rack. My biceps strained against the weight my arms extended. Logically, I should not have been able to lift it at all. “Remember to breath,” Bridget warned, “or you’ll feel it later.” “So what? Five minutes of rest and I’ll be good as new. I’m starting to like this vampire body.” She smirked. “Ten more.” “If Alpans can’t fly or phase,” I said while lowering and then raising the bar again, “then what powers do you have? You know, besides strength and speed.” “It’s listed in zee text books.” “Come on.” I grunted while pumping the metal bar. “I want to know what freaky things you can do.” “Eight more,” she commanded, but I could hear the sly smile in her voice. “Zee Alpans shapeshift.” “Into what?” “Any animal we want, though some have their favorites. Zee wolf is a favorite of our king, Nikolas der Wölfe, and his father and grandfather before him. It is where zee clan got their house name.” “So Loup is French for wolf,” I said, piecing the vampire name thing together in my mind. “Just like Korento is Finnish for dragon.” “Yes. Seven more.” I pondered my own shifting abilities. If vampires were real…then couldn’t werewolves also exist? I thought about what Leena told me before she died. Vampires used to trick humans into believing they were gods and demi gods. My history degree brought thoughts of Anubis and Fenrir to the front of my mind. Hollywood might have gotten the details wrong, but if races of vampires could shift into wolves and other animals, then it was obvious where the folklore started. “Bridget, the Beast of Gévaudan…was that…was it really a…” Her snicker confirmed my suspicions. “It took Prince Jalmari a long time to convince zee Alpan Council to stop hunting humans and cooperate with zee R.E.D. King Nikolas was fond of zee sport.”
I winced at Bridget’s use of the word sport. The Alpan king liked to hunt humans for fun. Great. “Five more, Ema. Pace yourself.” I focused on pumping the barbell, grateful for the distraction. I never lifted weights before. I never saw the point of exercising since I’d inherited a bean-pole figure. Something about running and lifting weights—the dull ache that once manifested in my calves and now migrated to my biceps—felt right. Good. It feels good. “So,” I said while finishing the last of the repetitions. “What’s your favorite animal to shift into?” “A cat.” The barbell slipped from my grip and hit my sternum, forcing the breath from my lungs in a rude reminder of reality.
Maria The desert night blew cold sand across the horizon. Each grain pricked my molecules as we flew over aggressive dunes and wild cacti. I followed my husband’s essence as he led us through the Iraqi terrain, bypassing the sleepy towns and quiet neighborhoods. I wasn’t thrilled to be in the Middle East. I kept imagining we’d be spotted by soldiers with heat-sensitive goggles or caught in a cross-fire. Naamah had explained to Apollyon as respectfully as possible how urgent it was to finish his business quickly and leave, but I was sure the Master wouldn’t be quick enough. Human warfare didn’t concern him. Naamah had found an illegal cobra breeder in Israel. It proved quicker to fly there and pick up the snakes on the way. My nimble husband, the navigator, spent the better half of the plane ride studying maps of the ancient Sumerian city-states and pinpointing their location in modern-day Iraq. After picking up the snakes and a fresh snack for his Majesty, we ditched the airplane at the Jordan boarder and phased the rest of the way. Naamah swooped down for a landing and I hoped like hell he didn’t solidify on a landmine. The rest of the group followed suit and solidified together. Victor gripped the large chest carrying Apollyon’s supplies. Turpentine trees, Hawthorn, and other shrubbery surrounded us. River water gushed in the west. Quaint towns of brick homes nestled together miles to the east—yet still too close for comfort. The faint synthetic lights of a larger city twinkled not too far off beyond that. The Master pushed past Victor and me, approaching my husband at the front of the group. “My Lord.” Naamah bowed. “We are about forty kilometers south of Bagdad, where the Tigris and Euripides rivers are closest together.” Apollyon took in our surroundings. Worry lines tightened his brow. “This will have to be close enough.” He motioned for Victor to place the chest on the ground. Then he walked several paces, lifting his palm to his side in a gesture for us to stay put. He stopped in a small clearing and then unsheathed a long ceremonial dagger from his belt. The silver handle took the shape of a viper with ruby eyes. Its body wound around the blade, rendering the edges useless in a fight. The tip, however, glimmered razor sharp in the moonlight.
Apollyon bent at the waist and pressed the sharp tip into the clay earth of the river bank. He dragged the instrument slowly through the dirt, carving a pentacle several feet wide. The symbol brought a bitter taste to my mouth as my hands silently came to rest over my abdomen. He swiped the blade against his pants to clean off the rubble before re-sheathing it. Then he returned to the wide chest and phased his left hand all the way up to the elbow. Victor backed away as Apollyon knelt and dipped his black smoky phantom limb into the chest. After a moment, the black smoke recoiled and Apollyon stood. When his arm solidified, one of the deadly cobras was wrapped around his palm, withering against Apollyon’s grip on its throat. He returned to the pentacle with the snake. With his free hand, he removed a small item from a pocket in his coat. I craned my neck to see it but only caught the flicker of copper. He moved his left thumb over the soft flat spot of the snake’s head and then pressed down while squeezing the sides of its mouth, forcing the creature to open its jaws and expose its fangs. Apollyon carefully pressed the copper item to the tip of one fang, coating it in venom. Then he placed the item on the ground in the center of the pentacle and coated it in sand. I saw then that the copper piece was a flat arrowhead. Leaving the arrowhead in the pentacle’s center, he began to chant in a language older than Sumerian; a language that I was sure only death could decipher. He unsheathed his dagger and forced the tip against the snake’s delicate underside. The reptile hissed and whipped its tail wildly against Apollyon’s arm as the blade punctured the scaly skin. He dragged the blade down, creating a deep incision from its neck to its tail. The reptile stilled and became silent as its blood spilled. He laid the dead snake on its back next to the copper emblem. Then he placed the arrowhead inside the flesh of the snake’s chest and held the wound closed with his fingertips. He continued to chant. This time, I recognized two of the words in the chant. They were names; Abbaton and Enki. My breath caught as I realized who the Master was raising. The ground jerked and I stumbled forward, falling against my husband. His left leg swung back to keep his balance. His thick hands held tight to my shoulders, steadying us both. The quake only lasted a moment but the surprise of its strength gleamed in my lover’s black eyes. He slowly turned his head from one side to the other and pressed his index finger to his lips, warning me to hold my tongue. He knew as well as I did who the Master was raising and it was far too late to prevent the damage.
My gaze returned to our horrific Master. He held the dagger to his forearm, his lips moving in chant, his wide stance calm and collected. He pressed the blade’s tip into his flesh and sliced himself. He made a fist and then opened and closed his fingers, pumping the blood as his arm turned over so that the blood dripped onto the already red-soaked ground. A generous portion ran from the wound before his body healed itself. He repeated the chant five more times. Each time, the desert earth moaned as though awakening from a long slumber. The reddened center of the pentacle fizzed like acid. Apollyon backed away from the circle as the wet sand swallowed the snake. I gripped Naamah’s arm as the earth continued to crumble and re-gather over the pentacle; bubbling, rising, packing, and molding until it resembled a ten-foot-tall snake. The monster animated and slithered straight toward us. Naamah pushed us out of the monster’s path. Victor ran for cover in the nearby trees. Apollyon stood his ground. “Enki, obey your king!” The giant snake halted and reeled its head back. A shrieking hiss ensued as its elongated body shrank and shifted into that of a large man. The elements turned into flesh, leaving a tall, broad-shouldered vampyre standing before Apollyon. The man was red-eyed, stark-naked, covered in black etchings, and rotting in several places, particularly his left leg and shoulder. Copper-colored dirt coated his thick mass of dark hair and sprinkled across his gruff jawline. “Enki.” Apollyon grinned. He spread his arms wide in welcome. “How do you feel, my friend?” Enki regarded Victor, Naamah, and me for a moment then blinked several times at Apollyon. His lips parted and I saw that his fangs resembled those of a snake instead of a vampyre. He dipped a finger and thumb into his mouth and pulled out the tiny arrowhead. He marveled at the emblem, turning it this way and that. His voice came forth as a raspy hiss. “To what honor doeth I serve thee, Lord?” Apollyon placed his hand on Enki’s good shoulder. “All shall be revealed in time. Right now we travel, for I must first awaken the others.” He nodded to the rest of us then phased and flew into the night. Victor grabbed the chest and phased it along with his body before whisking into the air. With a heavy sigh, Naamah turned to join them. I touched him before he could whisk away, keeping his molecules solid. “Darling,” I whispered as he upped his bow. “We have to warn them.” 52
He scowled. â€œWe can do nothing now except keep up.â€? He moved out of reach and phased while lifting into the night. Levitating slowly, I said a silent prayer to what I hoped were stars and not bomber jets, and then I sped ahead as an invisible wisp, catching up with the men.
Chapter Six I dropped the duffle bag near my feet as the elevator ascended to the seventh floor. My fingers gently probed the bruise between my breast and I winced, letting my hand fall away. Bridget wanted to take me to a medic to have my chest x-rayed after I’d dropped the barbell on my sternum. I convinced her to let it go with the promise I would drink two glasses of blood when I got back to the suite. Even if the bone broke, it wasn’t like anyone could put a cast around it. She reluctantly agreed with a stern warning to take it easy. My ego took the worst of it. A cat, really? Her favorite animal form was a cat? Was it a coincidence or was it a hint at her prior romance with Jesu? It was possible she liked cats before she met him. It was also possible that she liked him because he could turn into one too. Maybe they met that way…two cats in an alley. Maybe they did it kitty-style? Whoa, Ema, rewind and pause. It’s none of my business, remember? Since when did I get jealous? And since when did I talk to myself so much? The elevator chimed and then swished open. I lifted the duffel bag’s strap over my shoulder and sucked in a deep breath before stepping out. In the minute it took to cross the hall to room 714, my chest numbed to a dull ache. I phased into the suite and then solidified near the kitchen. Jesu didn’t appear to be in the room, but his spring rain scent lingered with the faint trace of cat fur. Speak of the devil… I went to my bedroom door and nudged the panel to the left. The cat stench intensified. “Jesu, I know you’re in my room.” A shadow skittered from the far corner to the other side of the bed. Then a ball of velvet black fur shot toward my face. I phased on instinct, dropping the duffle bag on the floor as the cat flew through me. My body pulled itself together and I spun around in time to see the pipsqueak animal land on all fours halfway across the hall. “What the hell?” I tried to keep my tone stern, but a grin tugged at the corners of my lips and all seriousness washed away. “You could have poked my eye out with those claws.” The cat trotted into the kitchen behind the counter, out of view. Bones snapped and popped. Moments later a very naked Jesu rose from the floor. One look at his bare chest drew my eyes like a lead weight to his very flat abdominals and sculpted hips. Thank God the counter hid his manly goods because my decency was obviously waning. My gaze finally floated back to the crooked smile dimpling his left cheek. 54
“Surprise attack,” he said by way of explanation. “We’re getting way too comfortable being naked in front of each other.” He laughed. Did I say that out loud? Oops. My hands clenched into fists of determination and I marched into his bedroom. I opened his wardrobe and pulled out the first shirt and pair of pants within reach. “I thought I could stay as a cat for a little while longer,” Jesu called from the kitchen. “For training.” “Not today,” I said, thinking about the possible broken bone in the center of my chest. “Bridget assigned a lot of homework.” Jesu leaned his elbow against the breakfast bar, supporting his chin in his hands as I came around to the kitchen. His brow quirked. “Homework?” “Of the reading variety.” I nodded in the direction of the duffle bag sitting just inside the doorway of my room. “Guess she wants me to know the rules of your world.” Jesu’s gaze darkened, but the look only lasted a brief moment before he shook himself and smiled. “Anything I can help you with?” “Sure, you can start by putting some clothes on.” I tossed the threads at him. He separated the tangled bundle and then balanced on one foot to pull on a pair of flannel pajama pants. His arms went over his head, pulling on a gray T-shirt. His abs stretched, every line of muscle sharply defined before my very eyes. I tore my gaze away and shook my head. “I’m going to um…homework.” “Let me know if you have questions,” he called out as I hauled ass to my room. I grabbed the duffle bag and flung it onto the bed before sliding the door shut with the heel of my boot. A stream of air rushed past my pursed lips in a deep sigh. This is ridiculous. I couldn’t be attracted to an ancestor, no matter how alive or young or incredibly toned his body is… Books! Books, books, books! I unzipped the duffle bag and then turned it upside-down, dumping the large texts onto the mattress. The bag fell to the floor as I wiped my palms on my thighs. I sat near the head of the bed, crossed my legs, and pulled the first volume of the history books into my lap.
Reading was one of very few elements from my human life that followed me into vampyre life. Four years of collage taught me that text books weren’t meant to be read front to back. One studied what one needed to know to pass the test. In my case, the test meant killing Apollyon. I flipped the book over and opened the back cover to the index. Was I morbid for wishing death upon someone? Could I go through with it in the heat of the moment? I had the chance before and froze. Now Leena was dead and Apollyon was waltzing around Finland. The index listed his name in a few sections. Within an hour of reading, Apollyon was no longer just Jesu’s evil father. He was an accomplished warlord. Because of his age, not much information existed for his early years. Spectators placed him at over six thousand years old at the time of his death in 383 B.C. I quickly did the math. He would be over eight thousand years old now. How anyone that ancient could single-handedly lift a grown woman by her neck was a terrifying mystery. Apollyon was a first generation vampyre born in northern Mesopotamia. I knew from prior reading in Jalmari’s library that first-generation vampyres were the result of a nephilim to human breeding, and were stronger than second or third generations. I’m what…twentieth generation? My nephilim DNA was so diluted that I was human for the first twenty-three years of my life. He ascended to leadership within a small nomadic clan called the Ekimmuen. The clan traveled south, following their food source. They dominated Samaria and then Babylon. Apollyon abandoned his clan soon after. Some speculation was given to his reasons for leaving, but the information was sketchy. Sightings were recorded in Egypt and then again in Greece in 1100 B.C. Just before the fall of the Mycenaean. He finally appeared again in 600 B.C. with an army and declared war on what was now Eastern Europe. Dates, names, and battles flew off the charts after that. Apollyon held a war record that could make Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, and Napoleon Bonaparte piss themselves. Near the end of his lifetime, his empire stretched as far south as Greece and as far north as Estonia, from the eastern-most point of Ukraine to the western-most part of the Czech Republic.
He led his warriors farther north to Germany, Denmark, and into Sweden. They pushed the Draugrians into Finland until they were trapped between Apollyon’s war and the heavily guarded territories of the Russian clans. The Draugrian king negotiated the hand of his niece and the crown in return for peace and protection. My heart ached for Jesu’s mother. Apollyon accepted, but the fighting didn’t end. I remembered Jesu saying Apollyon wanted his mother for her psychic abilities, how he would force her to predict the outcome of every battle so he could weigh his choices correctly. Cheating bastard. She aided in his murder, though. Apollyon set his target on the Russian vampyres’ territories next. His wife sent a warning to their leaders and when Apollyon and his warriors reached the border, they were ambushed and Apollyon was killed in battle. Way to go, Mrs. Korento. The trained historian in me wondered how in the word the vampyres managed to keep a war that large under wraps and out of public history books. People did know about vampires back then. The word vampyre appears in cuneiform tablets and epic sonnets from all over the world. They were mistaken for dark gods and demons and eventually coined as mythology. Like Anubis and the Beast of Gévaudan. That got me thinking about my own shapeshifting abilities. I folded the top corner of the page to mark my place in the text book and then set it on the nightstand on my way to the bathroom. My palms flattened against the sink’s edge as I leaned into them and studied my reflection in the mirror. A pale-skinned girl with black eyes stared back. I sucked in a deep breath and focused on shifting only my head. Cartilage and bone crackled like bubble wrap as my skull changed shape. My jaw grew into a long snout and my ears moved to the top of my head. Fur sprouted over my face and my eyes turned an iridescent yellow. Nausea twisted my stomach. I’d shifted plenty of times before, but never while watching myself in the mirror. The sight looked far more horrendous than it felt, and yet, there it was, in the mirror. The body of a woman with the head of a wolf stared back. Anubis. Except the famed god of the underworld had the body of a man and the head of jackal. So I didn’t look exactly like the hieroglyphic, but that was fine. This was plenty shocking enough. My heart raced as I released the breath I’d been holding. Slowly, I raised my hands to the sides. 57
As I conjured the action in my mind, my limbs bent back and the joints snapped. Each finger elongated, the skin between them stretching into a wide thin membrane. I remembered to breathe as I took in my reflection. I still had my body, the body of a young woman, but with the head of a wolf, and the wings of giant bat. I was the stuff of nightmares. I flexed my arms, testing the odd sensation of having wings while still mostly humanoid. The length was bulky and the tips bumped onto the counter knocking over toiletries. Somehow, though, they felt light and strong and I wondered if I could fly in this form. My wolf head was also something else; smell and hearing heightened, sight dulled down, and yet it didn’t feel nearly as odd as it looked. One thing was for sure; whatever disbelief I had for mythology or folklore was officially cured. Now I was just piss-scared of the fact that it was all real. It wasn’t bad enough that Apollyon fought for centuries in brute hand-to-hand combat, leading death and destruction across an entire continent to build an empire. He’d gone and done it against magical creatures that could shapeshift and fly and phase. I didn’t stand a chance in a showdown against him. I would freeze-up and cry. Leena’s death was proof. I never even won a game of poker, much less a fight. What am I going to do? Suddenly I wanted to be with Jesu. To confide in him, to hear him tell me everything would work out somehow. At that moment, his cellphone beeped from across the suite. My ear twitched as the phone flipped open and Jesu mumbled a word in Finnish. I fumbled across the room, not paying attention to the things my wings bumped into along the way. The little claw on the tip of each wing wrenched the panel door open and I pushed into the suite at the same time that Jesu stepped out of his room. His gaze rose to meet mine. In slow motion, his eyes widened and he faltered. His feet moved him back several steps before his mind could catch up and the heel of his boot caught the door frame, sending him falling backward. His free hand caught the side of the frame just in time to halt his fall and he steadied himself in a crouch, lips raised to expose his fangs in a warning hiss as his eyes burned emerald green. I cussed inwardly. No doubt my current body image would be impossible to erase. I shifted my arms and head back to their rightful shape, but nothing could be done about the heat that colored my cheeks. “Sorry?” 58
Jesu sighed and then righted himself, brushing his hair back with his fingers. He looked me up and down as though waiting to see if I had any more surprises. My gaze fell to my feet and I cleared my throat. “So,” he started. “I see you learned something new.” I decided to change the subject. “Who called?” “No one,” he answered a little too quickly. My gaze narrowed. “I heard your phone beep.” He worked his jaw while glancing at the aforementioned object in his palm. “How are your studies going?” I sighed at our game of change-the-subject. But I had wanted to talk to him about what I’d read. “It’s a lot to take in, Apollyon and his empire.” He nodded. “We should keep practicing. You have not used your wall-climbing ability in quite a while.” I swallowed and then nodded. He was right, I had a lot to learn and I needed to hurry up and master the small things if I was going to have any chance at the bigger things. Plus my sternum felt fine now. “Where should we start?” Jesu glanced over his shoulder. “The middle living room wall should do.” I pulled off my shoes and socks and rolled up my pants. The first time I did this, the wall was made of stone and cement. Even though I didn’t need to grip anything with my fingers, it at least had some traction. The suite walls were made of sleek marble. This would be a true test of the glue’s strength. Jesu followed me to the wall. Facing it, I held up both hands palms forward, fingers flat, and then pressed them against the honey-colored surface. A thick sticky substance secreted from the pores of my palms and suctioned my skin firmly to the wall like super glue. So far, so good. I lifted my right leg and pressed the ball of my foot and toes against the marble. The goo seeped forth, anchoring my foot. Jesu placed his hands on my waist and I jerked in surprise, glancing over my shoulder at him. “I am spotting you…just in case.” I decided not to argue as I faced the wall. He lifted my weight as I placed my left foot against the marble. 59
“Any slipping?” “No.” I shook my head. “I’m pretty stuck here.” “Keep going,” he coaxed. My elbows and knees ground against the surface as I pulled and pushed myself. My right palm slowly ripped away from the wall as though lined with Velcro. I reached up and slapped my hand down, creating a new layer of goo. Then I did the same with my left foot, then my left hand, and finally my right foot. Jesu’s hands slid over my thighs and then down my legs until they eventually fell away. I touched the ceiling in no time. My heart raced as I hesitantly placed a hand on the marble ceiling. “Ema.” Jesu’s tone turned dark. “Think about what you are doing first. Your weight will work against you. If you do this, you must be prepared to move fast before the glue gives out.” “Did you just call me fat?” “I am being serious, Ema.” “So am I. In fact, I think I’m a little offended.” He scoffed. I gnawed on my lip and then decided I had to try the ceiling. I sucked in a deep breath and closed my eyes. Okay, nephilem Ema, it’s time to have some fun. I can do this. I exhaled, opened my eyes, and scrambled quickly across the ceiling. Jesu was right, gravity pulled at me more than it did when I was vertical. Only the palms of my hands and feet touched the ceiling, the rest of me hung in the air. The glue locked on just as hard, but it stretched like melted mozzarella if I didn’t keep moving. I didn’t know which way to go. I couldn’t climb down the panels that enclosed our bedrooms; the thin paper material would rip. The kitchen looked like a hazard zone from this angle, the cabinets and appliances jutting out with sharp edges. My only option seemed to be the far end where I could climb down the hall walls. Without much time to consider it further, I hustled across the ceiling. “Where are you going?” “The hall,” I grunted. I couldn’t see Jesu. I couldn’t see much of the floor at all. Blood rushed to my head and my stomach twisted in knots. I needed to get off the ceiling before I blew chunks.
It wasn’t until I reached the wall’s edge in the hallway that I realized climbing down was going to be awkward. Did I crawl face-first, turn around and back up, or jump? Whimpering, I crawled around the ceiling in a tight circle until my feet faced the wall. I backed down as quickly and carefully as I could. Once I was flat against the wall again, my breathing relaxed and the vertigo passed. Jesu watched from a few feet away, his cute dimple deepening above his sideways smile. “That was amazing.” I grinned. “I don’t think I’ll ever do it again.” “Sure you will. In fact, I think you will do it again in about fifteen seconds.” “You mean you’re going to make me.” “You need to practice, Ema.” I rolled my eyes and jumped away from the wall without thinking. The glue didn’t release. It stretched a few inches and then snapped me back like a rubber band. My face hit solid marble. White stars danced in the periphery of my vision. Then, all at once, the glue gave out and I fell. Jesu’s arms were under me in a flash, braking what would have been another head-on collision. “Are you okay?” “Peachy.” I rubbed my throbbing nose and winced as pain surged through my face. Well that was a dumb idea. He helped me sit upright and then pulled my hands away from my face. “Let me see.” I obliged and tried not to cringe too much as he gently felt around the bridge. “I do not think it’s broken.” “I need to lie down—” “No, you might be concussed.” He swung my arm over his shoulders and then gripped my waist and pulled me to my feet. We walked to the kitchen counter and he helped me sit on a stool. He placed my hands on the counter and then gently brushed his fingers through my hair, pushing the stray locks behind my ears. “You sit tight.” He walked briskly around the counter into the kitchen and fixed a glass of blood. “Drink this.”
He didn’t have to tell me twice. I wrapped both hands around the glass and gratefully chugged it. I licked my lips and smacked them together before setting the glass down. “Ah!” His brow cocked. “Has any one ever told you that you drink like a sailor?” “Nope, you’re the first.” He nodded as though that made perfect sense. Euphoria buzzed through my veins and I sighed, awash in delightful energy. “Help me to my room?” Jesu’s gaze narrowed and his lips pressed into a thin line. “No. If you go to your room, you will lie down and never wake up.” “That’s not true, I’m a vampyre. I can’t fall asleep.” He came around the breakfast bar and stood next to me, twisting his torso so that he faced the direction of the hallway, and then pointed to the spot where I had tried to jump down. A concave dent the size of my face blemished the marble. “You see that?” I covered my face with my hands and groaned a muffled “yes” into them. “Give the blood time to heal that before you lie down.” I chewed my lip. I didn’t just want to lie down. I wanted to put some distance between us. I could already feel an overabundance of pheromones in my brain and other more pheromoneassociated parts of me. Jesu’s sweet scent called to my flesh and I didn’t think I could resist this time. Worse, I didn’t think he would resist me the same way he had in the past. I thought Jesu pushed me away because we were related, but after that near-kiss in the pool room, I didn’t know what to think. His fingertips brushed against my hands and I jumped, jerking them away. He studied my expression, his own features tight in concern. That look—the single line of worry creasing his smooth forehead as his brow lightly furrowed over deep green eyes, the strong defined bridge of his nose leading down to the hard set lines of his thin lips—caused a breath to catch in my throat. My jaw parted in pure stupidity as I grasped for words, but only a portion of my brain worked. The rest of my mind soaked in the carnal urge to take this man standing next to me in every way possible. My skin lit on fire from the inside out and his scent blew shards of ice, enveloping me in promises of release from the scorching flames. I wanted his flesh against me and his blood inside. My lips chapped and I slowly slid my tongue over them. 62
A look of realization flashed in his eyes and his demeanor softened. His eyelids hooded his gaze as it locked on my mouth. He wet his lips and then swallowed hard, his breath suddenly a little deeper than it was a moment ago. A surge of warmth gathered in my groin. My nephilim side kicked into control mode. I grabbed his shirt in my fist and pulled. At the same time, I rose from the seat and pushed up on my toes, crushing our lips together. Jesu froze, his breath caught in his chest. I forced his lips open with my tongue and then lavishly dipped into his mouth. He sighed; a low hungry growl carried in his breath, and ran his hands along my back, pressing me hard against him. My arms wrapped around his neck, fingers tangling in his long wisps of hair. Fire burned between my legs and in my breasts as our mouths tasted each other in a fury, each of us starved and craving the other. His palms slid over my butt and squeezed. As if by reflex, my left leg lifted and wrapped around his lap, locking our hips together. One hand gripped his left shoulder. The other bunched his tresses into a fist and pulled his head to the side. He hissed as though our lips parting was a painful thing. I snickered, pleased with his reaction, and then leaned into his neck, where the thick jugular vein pulsed. Each beat produced a wave of heat convulsing from his body, through our clothes, into my being. I swear my own heart changed to match the rhythm of his life force. My lips parted and my mouth opened wide. The tips of my fangs touched the surface of his delicate skin. His iron grip wrapped around both of my upper arms and then he shoved me away. The rush of cold air separating us was like a slap in the face as I tumbled against the barstools, losing my footing. Jesu caught my wrist and pulled me to my feet, an apologetic frown peeking from behind his curtain of hair. “What the f—” “You don’t know what you are doing, Ema.” His voice was raspy and he avoided my gaze as he gripped both my shoulders. I wasn’t sure if he worried I’d fall again, or if he was meaning to keep me at arm’s length—keep me away. “Jesu…” I shook my head, surprised at how my voice had sounded like a plea. My body still tingled with adrenaline and lust and hormones, but what was I going to say? I want you. “Ema.” Jesu’s dark gaze studied me as he chewed his lip in hesitation. His brow pulled together, but instead of sternness or disapproval, it was raised in question. In fear. In hope. “Tell me this is what you want.” I shook my head, trying in vain to sober up. “What do you mean?” 63
He wet his lips and then spoke each word slowly. The urgency in his tone frightened me. “Tell me this is not just the bloodlust, Ema. Tell me you really want this.” I didn’t know what to think. My primal desires imagined phasing Jesu into the bedroom and having my way with him, but was that really what I wanted? Were those feelings real, or was I as clueless as a freshman drinking the punch at a senior frat party? I worked so hard to resist him; I must not have really wanted him in that way. Besides, what would the consequences be? What would happen if things got complicated and awkward and didn’t work out? I’d lose my only friend in this world. I’d already lost my dad, my ex, my friends, and my mom. I couldn’t risk losing Jesu for an hour of sex. It wasn’t worth it. He shook me. “God, Ema, I can see you fighting with yourself.” I blinked at him, momentarily distracted. “What?” He shook his head and let his hands fall away from my shoulders. Slowly, he backed toward the suite door, his expression tight, glaring. His gaze burned emerald flames and a threatening growl rumbled from his breath as he turned and marched out into the hall, slamming the door behind him. I closed my eyes and breathed deeply. After a moment’s hesitation, I ran to the door and wrenched it open, but Jesu was already gone.
Maria The carving knife sawed through the thick hide of a freshly killed caribou. Thin trails of dried blood caked my lips. My hands and apron soaked in it as I peeled back the skin. My senses jumped from excess adrenaline. It’d been so long since I prepared a meal this fresh. The men and other abominable beings waited in the dining hall where Naamah tried to bring them up to speed on the ways of modern life. My poor husband was asking fire not to burn. I divided large portions of raw meat and organs on nine platters and then opened the refrigerator. My gaze wavered on the small amber goblet hidden in the very back. Would the opportunity to use its contents ever present itself? It seemed less and less likely. Apollyon was smart; he demanded all drinks to be served from the same glass pitcher and he never drank until his cohorts did. I might as well dispose of the poison before someone found it. My hands reached instead for the fresh bags of donor blood. I placed them in the microwave and warmed them up before dispelling the liquid into a crystal pitcher. Phasing the whole meal, I whisked into the dining hall. My essence solidified near the long table. I was careful to deposit the vaporized plates of food on the table before allowing them to appear. Then I solidified the vase and circled the table, filling everyone’s glass. The six undead beings immediately dug their claws into the feast. Their snake-like fangs made chewing impossible and they soon gave up on trying to maneuver around them. Slowing to use their utensils, they cut smaller bites and swallowed them whole. Inanna, the only other female in the group, plucked the caribou’s heart from the platter and held it close to the Master’s lips. He bit into the organ as though it were an apple, juice dribbling from the corners of his mouth. She had a fit when Apollyon raised her from the earth. Not for being reanimated, but because most of her body was decomposed and wouldn’t heal except in the areas where her skin was tattooed. It was quite a sight to look through the holes between the tribal patterns on her face. I thought it curious that she had many more tattoos than the men, especially on her breasts and genitalia. For all her prior fussing, though, she didn’t bother to cover herself. She wore only a sheer silk skirt and layers of jewelry that once belonged to Leena. Poor thing must be tossing in her pyre. The men were scantily dressed as well. Jeans and tattooed script were the top choices. I’d never met them in their first lifetimes, but their reputation was once legendary. They called themselves the Saga-Giga—the Black-Faced—after the ink etched into their skin. They were the 65
original six to break away from the Ekimmuen clan and pledge their allegiance to Apollyon. They were only vampyres then. Now they were half snake, half zombie and filled the room with the stench of sulfur and bad meat. Normally, the Master was never sloppy with his work. He would have returned the Saga-Giga to their rightful form if time had not taken a toll on his tools. Instead he had to improvise and this was the ugly result. Having served them all, I set the pitcher in the center of the table and went to stand near the kitchen door like a good little wench. “Men,” Apollyon boasted. “I am disgusted by the future in which we have woken; a future where mighty vampyres live in hiding, in fear, while the human race prospers and dominates. This is not the future we fought for.” He banged his fists on the table, rattling the dishes. Everyone except Naamah and I nodded their heads in agreement. My husband’s gaze fell to the untouched plate of food in front of him and he kept quiet. “I would rather return to my grave and rot than watch my kingdom be shrouded in the shadows, but that would be too simple. Those humans, those…those swine should be the ones cowering from us! Warriors, I stand before you, ashamed. I had a mighty army, a vast empire that respected me, minions who worshiped us all. Remember what I gave you? We were mightier than kings. We were gods, and now it’s gone, wasted away by my own flesh and blood, my own heir.” He paused to shake his head before he continued. “No more. As far as I am concerned, I have no son, no heir worthy of upholding the generous power I gave to all of you. There will be no more failures. I will regain dominion and right this…this sad, regressive Earth.” “Warriors, Victor is a true ally.” The Master grinned at the vampyre sitting to his left. Victor met the gazes of the each of the Saga-Giga with sternness. “While I laid in wait for my moment of return, Victor’s faith in his king remained strong. He formed new clans across the lands; clans that share our vision, men who see the weakness of their pathetic prince and have pledged themselves to my rule. Once I regain the Neo-Draugrian throne, we shall unite with our allies and declare war until both human and vampyre remember their place in this world.” The group growled and hissed in excitement. They raised their drinks and saluted their king. My gaze fell upon my husband, sitting across the room facing me. His lips pressed into a thin line and his cheeks looked a touch paler than normal. I prayed he wouldn’t do anything rash until we had a chance to formulate a plan.
“A word of warning, men,” Apollyon continued over his eager admirers. “We cannot fight as we have before. The humans carry impressive weapons now, weapons that demolish whole cities in mere moments, and they will not hesitate to use them. For now, we plot and grow our numbers. Understood?” Everyone nodded and mumbled their agreement. Then the Master gestured at Enki. “I have a special job for you, o’ talented friend.” Enki cocked his head to the side and grinned. His lip curled away from a long, slender fang. A single drop of venom dripped from the tip and landed on the floorboard. It sank into the wood and then fizzled deeper into the stone beneath. “I need you to track a very special vampyre for me.” Apollyon waved a hand at Victor. The Second patted a handkerchief to his lips and then bent to the side to unlatch the lid of the Master’s precious trunk. From the chest, Victor took out a backpack and set it on the table. My breath caught. The backpack belonged to Ema. Apollyon crooked a finger, signaling for Enki to come. The monster stood and did as he was told. Apollyon unzipped the pack and dumped its contents on the table. Assorted makeup products, a CD, and a hairbrush spilled out. Enki took the brush into his hand, closed his eyes, and sniffed it. Apollyon motioned for Victor to continue. He removed another item from the chest. When his arms rose to lift the item over the table for Enki to see, my heart nearly stopped. Jesu’s portrait of Ema faced the room. The painting showed the young woman as he saw her in his premonition; brown-eyed, red-haired, tanned, human. Unlike his vision, she wore an emerald robe and leaned against a pillar in a rose garden. My jaw opened to say something, but my gaze flickered to my husband and his stern expression held mine. He slowly shook his head. My jaw snapped shut and I looked to the floor, an unsettling feeling growing in my gut. “She is called Ema Marx,” Apollyon explained to Enki. “She is more than likely with my sons. I want her alive and unharmed, understood?” Enki set the brush down and then nodded. Apollyon waved his hand dismissively and Enki vanished from the castle, leaving only the stench of sulfur in his wake.
Chapter Seven I should’ve looked for Jesu. I should’ve demanded that we talked about the kiss…my actions…his actions...all of it. Part of me wanted him. I knew it was true, but at what price? I wouldn’t risk our friendship. A bad vibe took root in my stomach and grew heavier as the ugly voice in the back of my mind taunted me. Too late, Ema. Our friendship is ruined. Jesu wouldn’t talk to me even if I tried. I clenched my jaw and silently told myself to shut up. Training. I need to go to training. As confused and nauseous as I felt, I needed the knowledge of this world. Some time apart would give Jesu a chance to cool off. I ran back to my room, shoved the text books into the bag, and then made a beeline to the elevator where it deposited me at the gymnasium a moment later. I found Bridget seated in the center of the boxing ring. She waved me over. “Zee rules of vampire life are straightforward,” she began as I ducked under the ropes. “We live as humans do. We follow their traffic laws, their civil laws, and everything in between. We remain inconspicuous at all times. We do not vote or concern ourselves in any process of their politics, including warfare.” “I know,” I mumbled while settling onto the mat. “Jesu explained that part to me.” “Prince Jesu.” My brow arched as I glanced at her, but she didn’t offer an explanation. “Right, Prince Jesu.” I pulled out Vampyre Social Studies for the Twenty-First Century and opened it to peer at a map printed inside the front cover and first page. I frowned at the image with borders drawn all wrong. It was like looking into the future post World War III and seeing the results, only this had already happened and I was being forced to accept it now. “Since you were born in this generation,” Bridget continued, “I don’t have to tell you how humans act. I should warn you, though, they die fast. That means their world changes fast. We have to adapt quickly to blend in. Everything from your clothes, to your car, to your music must keep up. Pay attention to zee news. Take a continuing education class every twenty years.” “How does vampyre government work? Do we vote for our bills?” I asked, wanting to dive into the lesson and take my mind off the day’s previous events. To my surprise, she shook her head.
“Citizen vampyres and vampires do not vote, only zee members of zee Councils. Every Council is made up of zee Head, Hands, Arms, and Councilmen. Each major clan has a royal family. Zee king or queen is referred to as zee Head of the Clan. They are zee highest order of zee law and have zee final verdict in all disputes. However, they can be impeached by majority vote of zee Council. “Zee Hands are one step down. There are a maximum of trois Hands per clan, though some smaller clans have only two or one. Zee Hands act as zee Head’s advisors and can speak and act on their behalf in matters that don’t require zee Head’s direct attention. They are usually numbered Second-in-Command, Third-in-Command, and Fourth-in-Command. Should zee Head be unavailable for any reason, zee Second will step in. If he or she is unavailable, zee responsibility then falls on zee Third, and so forth.” I thought of Maria and Naamah. Jesu had told me Maria was Jalmari’s Third-inCommand, but she acted more like a maid than a politician. I felt a little strange having opened up to her like she was my own mother, but there was something so comforting about Maria’s company. Even Naamah had a pleasant aura about him and I had only met him once. “So they’re like Vice Presidents,” I said while sorting through my thoughts. “That is one way to think of it. Zee Arms are zee next step down the hierarchy. Their number depends on zee size of zee clan’s territory. They’re responsible for upholding zee law in countries other than where zee Head lives. For example, zee Alpan clan has four Arms; Octavio del Lobo who governs Spain and Portugal, Ricardus du Loup in France, Benedetto del Lupo in Italy, and Constantine an MacTire who governs Ireland and zee United Kingdom.” I looked at the map again and realized the Alpan clan also included Belgium, Denmark and Netherland. Jesu had said the Alpan king and queen lived in Germany. I guess they didn’t consider those countries big enough to have their own Arm. “Zee Arms can vote and deal largely with zee R.E.D., but they cannot stand in for zee Head under any circumstances.” “The Senate.” I nodded. “Zee final step below that are zee Councilmen who represent each providence. Don’t be confused by their title. Zee Councilmen together with zee Arms, Hands, and Head make up each Council. Zee Councilmen are zee voice of zee Citizens and have voting rights. They deal with local immediate issues and zee R.E.D.” 69
“Governors,” I said. “Real peachy. They only thing I’m still iffy about is the R.E.D. Jesu said it’s run by some powerful humans, but so far I only see other vampyres working here.” “Prince Jesu, and don’t worry,” she scoffed. “Zee majority of R.E.D. facilities are operated by local vampyre citizens. It provides jobs for a lot of us. Zee human higher-ups are a bunch of rich assholes that are happy believing they have a say in what we do.” “But…don’t they?” She grinned. “Sure. Like I said before, if you mess up they’ll relocate your little butt faster than you can sink your teeth into them, and they won’t be nice about it. Zee number of humans who know about our existence is minuscule. It’s our side of zee politics that want us to stay out of zee light.” “That’s not what Jesu—” “Prince Jesu.” My brow rose again. I set the book down between us and crossed my arms over my chest. “Okay, that’s enough. Why do you keep saying Prince every time I say Jesu?” “Because Jesu is a prince and you should learn to address your higher-ups by their title. Calling them by their informal name is disrespectful.” “He doesn’t seem to mind.” I shrugged. “Others will. You should get used to it now.” My nose scrunched at the thought of calling Jesu prince or highness. One didn’t just make-out randomly with royalty, did they? The nauseating vibe crept into the pit of my stomach again. “You know what, I’m tired of social studies. Can we do some physical training?” She nodded and gathered the books into a neat pile. “You can read them in your spare time. Let’s begin with a ten minute meditation lesson.” I groaned, not wanting another reason to be alone with my thoughts. Bridget insisted that once I mastered meditation I would be able to pacify myself in any crisis. Kissing Jesu sure resulted in a crisis. Maybe meditation could be useful. She tried teaching me three different techniques to relieve stress, but her methods needed some serious rewriting. I fidgeted like a fish on land while trying to clear racing thoughts. After fifteen minutes, Bridget sighed out loud and rolled her eyes. She stood and dismounted the boxing ring, gesturing for me to follow as she continued toward the center of the gymnasium. We weaved around obstacle course equipment to a strange 70
device in the center. A wooden log about five feet long and two feet wide stood vertically on top of a mechanical base. The log had three thick arms sticking straight out; one at head level, one near the ground, and one in the middle. “What’s this?” Bridget reached back and retrieved a small device from her pants pocket. It looked like a remote control. “I call it zee hopscotch machine. Ever play hopscotch?” “When I was a kid.” I crossed my arms, already skeptical of this machine. “When I turn it on, zee base will rotate clockwise. Your job is to intercept zee bars with your arms here.” She raised her left fist near her face in a blocking stance. With her right hand, she hit the outer side of her left forearm to demonstrate how to intercept the bars. “When you hit a bar, zee base rotates counter-clockwise until you hit it again. See that red tape on zee floor there?” I followed her line of sight to find a red strip twelve inches from the hopscotch device. “Your toes are not allowed to leave that red tape and you are not allowed to phase until I declare zee exercise over.” “But—” “Zee object is not to get knocked over. It’s a lesson in speed and control.” She placed her hands on my shoulders and nudged me over to the red line. “Ready?” “No.” “Set?” “No…” “Commencer!” She pressed a button on the remote and the device whirred to life. The base rotated in a slow circle. The first bar came around and I tossed both arms over my face. The solid wood hit harder than expected and nearly knocked me off my feet. The machine whirred to a halt and then rattled as though it was confused. Finally, it spun in the opposite direction, bringing the second branch around from the other side. This time I was ready for the weight and planted my feet firmly to the floor. I thrust my forearm against the branch and pushed until the machine finally protested again. “You got zee hang of it. Let’s increase speed.” My gaze widened as I faced Bridget. “I only did one rotation!” 71
She smirked and nodded at the rotating log. “Keep your eyes on your opponent, Ema.” What in the hell— I faced the spinning log and blocked just seconds before the top branch connected with my face. I meant to block again before the second branch came around, but I was too slow and ducked under it. Bridget tsked. “Pick up zee pace, Ema, and watch out for that lower pole.” Huh? I glanced down as the third branch swung around, aiming straight for my ankles. How was I supposed to block that? I panicked and jumped over it. “Keep your toes on zee tape!” “How?” I screamed. “Figure it out,” she called back. I could’ve sworn her voice held a touch of sing-song mockery. My jaw clenched and I kept both arms raised at the ready. With the increased speed, the impact hit twice as strong as before. Sweat dampened my brow as I fought to push the stupid log in the other direction before it could knock me over. Once I found a good rhythm, it was just a matter of keeping pace and not running my stamina into the ground. That was, of course, until my pain-in-the-ass trainer increased the speed again. “Are you crazy?” I shouted while trying to keep up with the branches flying toward my face in a tornado of insanity. The top branch hit and kept on pushing. I strained against it with all my might, one foot back, the other forward, both hands gripping the branch. My fangs gnashed together as sweat rolled from my temples. Finally, the machine spun in the opposite direction, dragging me with it. As an afterthought, I let go and fell flat on my face. The middle branch swooped overhead. A cold fear washed through me as I remembered what came next. The fucking lower branch. I craned my head around and saw it coming. I didn’t have time to brace myself. It was going to hit me and I was going to fly across the room as a result. My eyes squeezed shut and I stiffened in anticipation of the pain. Then something snapped inside me. Instinct took over and I phased just as the branch touched the molecules of my toes and then swept through my essence. Sound waves rippled through my molecules and my brain decoded the meaning. It was Bridget’s voice. “Unphase, Ema.” Well screw her. I needed a moment. I didn’t care if it meant I failed her stupid exercise. 72
Fire shot through my being like a lightning strike. Atoms jolted together, instantly becoming solid tissue. The burning sensation tore through my skin, under my eyelids, inside my lungs. Screams erupted from my chest and I clawed at my skin in an urgent need to bleed the fire out. “Ema, calm down!” Bridget crouched over me, pulling my hands away. “It’s just a little bit of mace. You will heal in a moment.” “Mace?” I screamed. “You pepper sprayed me?” “Not me, zee hopscotch machine. There is a scale under zee red tape. If zee scale stays at zero for longer than ten seconds, zee bars emit a small amount of mace. No big deal to a vampire, except when that vampire is in phase-form.” “You could have warned me!” The burning faded to an itchy tingle similar to the onset of a bad sunburn. My muscles relaxed enough for me to push myself upright, but I was still upset. “Hey.” She sniggered. “I did tell you not to phase until after I turned zee machine off.” I looked at the still device, its motor resting silently, not at all like it was a second ago. My gaze narrowed. “Were you planning to turn it off before or after it killed me?” “Don’t be such a baby. Come on.” She helped me up and then gestured to the log of death. “What, again? No way.” I raised my arms, palms forward, and backed away. Bridget rolled her eyes. “We’re going to go over this exercise until you get it right.” I shook my head. “No.” “Ema, it’s easy. Look…” She motioned to the bars. “They each touch you in a different spot, at a different time, in a pattern: torso, head, feet. There is no reason to use your feet if you can keep up with zee first two bars. Don’t waste energy moving your entire body around. Spread your legs apart, keep your back straight, and twist your waist. Zee hands and wrists are delicate. Always use your bigger body parts. Intercept with your forearms and push with your biceps and legs.” My hands wrung as I considered Bridget’s instructions. She actually made some sense. I sucked in a deep breath and then positioned my feet and exhaled. “Okay, let her rip.” ****
The elevator rose through the hollow chamber to the seventh floor. A dull ache stirred in my calves and biceps as a smile played on the corners of my lips. With Bridget’s guidance, I beat the hopscotch machine at the maximum speed. Maybe I did have what it takes to face Apollyon. The doors slid open and I stepped out, wiping perspiration from my brow. Voices pulled my attention to the end of the hall where two men stood near door number 714. I recognized Jesu immediately. He leaned against a door frame opposite from ours, his arms crossed over his chest. He knew I was there. He could sense me just as I could him, and yet, he averted his gaze, his hair falling over his shoulders like a black curtain. The conversation stopped cold. The other man was dressed like a bellhop. Sure enough, a tiny gold dragon shaped in an “O” was pinned to his lapel. I bit my lip and approached them. I forgot about our kiss while battling the hopscotch machine. Now it shot back, center stage, and none less confusing than before. My mind reeled and my breath deepened, but there was no sense in waiting for the elevator or running in the opposite direction. I paused before the men and smiled. Jesu made no sound or movement. His gaze locked on a spot on the floor, mouth pressed into the firm line. The bellhop’s gaze travelled between us. His brow cocked, but he was smart enough not to comment on the personal business of a paying customer. “Vell,” the man said in a thick German accent. “I’ll be on my vay. Here is your key.” He handed a plastic card to Jesu then strode past me. I waited until he boarded the elevator and the doors closed. “What’s going on?” I tilted my chin at the card in Jesu’s hand. He turned his back to me and slid the key into the electronic lock. “I have my own suite now.” The latched clicked and the door swung open. “You’re…moving out?” Nausea twisted my stomach. My hands rose to my middle as though I could physically hold myself together. Jesu hesitated at the threshold, still avoiding my gaze, his voice gravely. “I will just be across the hall, Ema. Things will be easier this way.” Easier for who? I wanted to scream. Instead I swallowed hard and managed a small smile. “Sure.” When he didn’t say anything else, I turned away and unlocked the suite door. My suite. 74
Jesu’s door softly closed behind me. I glanced over my shoulder at room 715. My lip quivered as I entered and then closed my own suite door. Well, I thought bitterly. I’m an adult. If Jesu doesn’t want to be my roommate, that’s fine. Besides, Jesu was right; things would be easier with a couple of closed doors between us. So why did I feel so hurt? After an hour of wallowing in self-pity, and thirty minutes of trying to make sense of German television, I came to the conclusion that Jesu and I weren’t going to do anymore extracurricular training together—at least not today. The instant I stopped waiting for Jesu to knock on the door and apologize, the whole suite suddenly felt larger, emptier, and annoyingly silent. The only noise came from the hum of the refrigerator. I thought a windowless building would’ve been a blessing for a vampyre, but having to rely entirely on a digital clock to have any sense of time passing weighed on my nerves. Minutes felt like hours as I ho-hummed around. Finally, I curled up on the couch with the text books Bridget gave me. I picked up the lesson in vampyre government where we’d left off, scanning the pages until I found a chart listing the members of the Neo-Draugrian Council. If what Jesu had said was true—if Apollyon reclaimed the throne and the Council became my enemies—I wanted to know exactly whom I couldn’t trust. Prince Jalmari ta Korento was recorded as the Head. He was already firmly at the top of my do-not-trust list. Naamah and Maria were the Hands. I trusted them even though they had to serve Apollyon. Jesu said Fredrick av Draken was the Swedish Arm and the chart in the text book confirmed it. The Neo-Draugrians also had two more Arms; Stefán á Drekann and a woman named Helldora av Dragen. The more I learned, the more questions I had and the less I felt like I knew. I wondered what these people’s names were before they became vampyres or—if because they were in fact born vampyres—did they always live in the clan they were born to and referred to themselves as dragons all their lives? I found that hard to believe, given their long lifespans. What did a vampyre do if he wanted to buy property in France? Did his surname change to Wolf? Maybe that was why the territories were so huge. The major clans encompassed whole countries. It seemed like everything about vampyres was bigger, better, stronger, faster. It hurt my brain just thinking about it. 75
Eventually I couldn’t sit still any longer. I glanced at the clock. It was noon. I had half a day to waste before meeting with Bridget for training again. I decided to go to the weight room. Maybe I’d add a little muscle tone to my bones. Chlorine-infected air stung my nostrils as soon as the elevator doors opened. Breathing through my mouth, I continued down the humidity ridden hall. As I passed the swimming pool room, a soft giggle drew my attention to the windowpane in the door. Bridget stood waist deep in the tantalizing water wearing a skimpy bikini. Her bowtie lips smiled playfully as laughing lines crinkled the corners of her exotic eyes. Jesu swam up behind her and then dipped to hook his arm under her knees. He swept her legs out from under her. She fell back into his arms and he twirled her around. My breath caught and I rolled to the side, my back and palms pressed flat against the wall. Then the elevator dinged and out came Heidi, dressed in a flaming red pantsuit and lime green flip-flops. She carried a bundle of clean towels in each arm. What is she doing here? It’s way too early for her shift! She neared the poolroom, but noticed me and stopped short on the other side of the door. “Oh good day Ema how are—” I pressed my forefinger against my lips and narrowed my eyes, giving her my best shutthe-hell-up look. She cocked her brow in question. I sighed and then nodded my head at the window in the door. She slowly leaned her voluptuous upper half just far enough to steal a peek. She immediately righted herself and then grinned and wiggled her eyebrows. I huffed silently. Her brow rose and she jutted a thumb at the window, adding a little jerking nod. I shook my head. No way was I going to look in there again. She gave me a sidelong glance, looked at the door, and then looked back at me as if to say, If you don’t do it, then I’m going in there. I groaned silently and then crept forward, crouching behind the door. God help me, I slowly stood up and looked into the window. The couple stood together on the far side of the shallow end of the pool. Jesu’s back pressed against the pool’s edge. Bridget leaned into his bare chest, facing the rest of the room. Her gaze lowered to the gently lapping water as Jesu’s fingers traced along her arms to her shoulders. He scooped her long tresses to the side, exposing the tattoo over her jugular vein. He
bent and pressed his lips lightly to the side of her neck. Her long lashes closed as she leaned further to the left, giving him more room to explore. I gasped and ducked below the window. My heart plummeted into my stomach and suddenly I wanted to be anywhere but here. I knew they couldn’t smell me, but they could have heard my gasp and felt my presence. My gaze traveled to the eager Heidi. Her eyes widened and she bounced in urgent anticipation. My mouth parted, but no sound came. I shut my jaw and shrugged at her like an idiot. I stood, wary of avoiding the glass pane, and then turned away. I paid no attention to where I was going, though I knew in the back of my mind I was advancing on the vicinity of the weight room. My mind’s eye replayed the scene I’d just witnessed. It played over and over in my head until only a single thought possessed my being. I need to get out of here, right now. A flash of bright light forced my eyes closed.
Chapter Eight When my eyes opened, I stood in the middle of a square surrounded by manicured trees, tall buildings, traffic lights, cars, cozy bistros, and shops. The sun hid behind massive clouds as it began its decent toward the horizon, but the shade was fruitless. I cringed and raised a hand to protect my gaze from the fluorescent orange rays. The scents of coffee and sausage, pastries and flowers, exhaust and metal flooded my senses. I staggered several feet back as I recoiled from it all. There were humans everywhere; in the cars zooming by, inside the bars across the street, walking down the block about to turn the corner, strolling between cafes, eating and chatting with friends. They didnâ€™t notice me, but I saw everything about them from the color of their irises to the number of highlights in their hair, the pattern used in the weave of threads making up their choice of clothes, the number of inches covered in the length of their footsteps, and the precise way the soles of their shoes touched the ground. Their chatter rose, foreign and meaningless as it was, yet my brain used it, zeroed in on the tone, on their lips, on their faces, the expressions there. Something inside me shifted. My mood matched theirs and I knew instantly how to kill them. I could do it so easily, so fast. They wouldnâ€™t even have time to blink. No one would notice. My spine straightened and my head rolled back as my eyes closed. My lungs sucked in a deep greedy breath until the salty-metallic air filled every inch of my chest. A shudder passed through me as something dark and deeply rooted clawed to the surface. My nephelim side. My fists clenched as I tried to fight it, but my very resistance made the dark feeling stronger. It raged through me, a red-vision force driven by instinct. A growl rolled my lips away from my fangs as a single thought took control of my savage mind. Blood. I sprinted toward the street, leaped over a car, and then phased. The instant my molecules de-solidified, my essence smacked against a wall of warm sticky energy. It oozed through me like molasses, calming and sating the raging monster inside until the urges dimmed into the furthest reaches of my being.
Logic replaced instinct as I floated peacefully over the street to the sidewalk on the other side. I continued lazily into a dark alley and waited, basking in the sticky energy as it filled my invisible lungs with vigor, virtually extinguishing all traces of thirst or hunger. I’ve felt this before, I recalled as my thoughts conjured the night Jalmari took me to his discotheque in downtown Helsinki. I’d worried I wouldn’t be able to go near the human clubgoers without attacking them. Jalmari had taken my hand in his and phased it. The same sticky energy had coated my molecules and traveled to my core where it sated the urge and allowed me to pass the humans safely. So I can absorb human energy. That must have been what the sticky calm stuff was. What else could curb my thirst so completely? Jesu had told me about this very special power. Only the Greek Vrykolakan clan possessed it and because of that one special talent, they never had to rely on blood—which meant I would never have to rely on blood ever again. My molecules slowly pulled together and solidified. A grin stretched across my face as a weight lifted from my shoulders. I never had to hurt people. I never had to lose control. Their energy flooded the air. As far as I could tell, taking a little bit of their energy didn’t harm them. This meant no more bloodlust. I couldn’t wait to tell Jesu. My smile fell as images of Jesu and Bridget filled my head. I knew they had a history, but neither one ever mentioned the other or acted like they were interested in re-kindling their relationship. Then again, why would either of them talk to me about that? I’d only known Jesu for a few months, and I’d just met Bridget a couple of days ago. They wouldn’t confide in me. Whatever had happened between them in the past evidently wasn’t so bad since they were able to make up. I couldn’t help feeling like Jesu moved on pretty damn fast, but that wasn’t fair, was it? Our relationship wasn’t the same. He’s my relative. Not my boyfriend—never my boyfriend. I knew that. So why did their canoodling still feel like a slap in the face? I gnawed on my lower lip and hugged myself. My feelings were wrong. I should be happy for Jesu. Bridget and I could be friends. I sighed and glanced around the surrounding alley. I needed to get back to the hotel, but I had no idea how. I didn’t know where I was. I squinted at the dimming sky and debated flying over the city to get a better view. Bridget’s warnings of banishment from the R.E.D. kept my feet firmly on the ground. I might already be in big trouble for phasing mid-leap over a busy street. 79
The opposite end of the alley opened to a narrow back road. I followed it in search of a transit map. I would have loved to walk along the main road and see some of Berlin, but thought I better not take any chances. While walking, I experimented by phasing the tip of my pinky finger. The sticky human energy immediately claimed my phased digit. It solidified and I smiled, satisfied that I could prevent my thirst from returning. I spotted a bus stop and a map at the end of the block. My steps hastened toward it, but my spirits sank at the German writing. This was going to take a while to sort out. As I pondered the image and labels behind the plastic frame, a sulfuric stench tore at my senses. Ugh, city sewage. A second musky scent followed, raising the hairs on the back of my neck. Predator. I forced myself to think rationally. A vampyre could talk to another vampyre, right? If they spoke English, they could direct me back to the hotel. I sniffed at the air, nearly gagging at the harsh rotten-egg odor. Instinct turned my attention to the right. An alley sat blanketed in shadows about eight feet away and I was positive the vampyre stood inside. I stepped quickly toward the alley, concentrating as I advanced. The slow rumble of the vampyre’s breath carried on the crisp air and the stench thickened. What the hell were they doing, eating garbage? “Excuse me,” I called out, not wanting to startle them, though I was sure they could hear my footsteps. “Excuse me, I’m lost. Can you help me out?” I reached the opening and rounded the corner. My breath hitched at the man standing at the back of the alley. He stood in profile, his right side facing me. He was topless and sported biceps like an Olympian. Strange symbols in black ink covered his milk-white skin. Two snakes entwined around a stick in a double helix graced his shoulder. He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply, his nostrils flaring. When his eyelids opened, the irises were beet red. He swung his left leg around, facing me head-on. Deep wounds exposed the flesh of the left side of his face and arm. Puss leaked over the withered skin and crusted at the edges. I gagged on my own words. “Are you okay? Are you hurt?” Confusion warped my mind. My heart hammered in my chest and my instincts flared. The man grinned and I caught sight of his fangs. They weren’t normal vampyre teeth. He only had two thin fangs that extended far longer than any I’d ever seen before. He started to shift. Red and black scales sprouted from his flesh as his torso elongated. The skin on the sides of his 80
neck stretched into a scaly hood shape as his arms molded into his body and his legs became a thick tail. He transformed into a gigantic cobra. My legs were running before the full weight of the situation sank in and I was grateful for the instincts that drove me into action. The beast hissed as it slithered after me, knocking over dumpsters and wooden crates with its thick body. It moved fast, despite not having legs, and caught up even as I pushed myself to my full vampyre speed. His tail swung ten feet in front of me and then came reeling back like a boomerang. I phased and kept going. Its body passed through mine, sending a tsunami of heat through my essence. The force slammed my molecules together and I hit asphalt. Scaly muscles wrapped around my leg and pulled me toward the creature. I tried to phase, but something kept me together. The giant snake hissed in short fast bouts as though it were laughing as he lifted me into the air. I hung upside down, my arms flailing wildly. I tried my best to kick at his elongated body with my other foot, but nothing seemed to work. A raspy voice hissed. The sulfuric stench of its breath made my mind spin. Venom dripped from its fangs. A large dollop hit the ground and then fizzed through the concrete like acid. Holy shit. I wished I had a weapon; a gun, a knife, anything, because there was no way I was going to use my teeth on this son-of-a-bitch with acid like that in his system. Think! I had a whole list of powers, what could I do? Bat-form popped into my head and I went with it, transforming my body so quickly the conversion left a sharp pain in my joints. The idea worked. The vampyre hadn’t expected me to transform and my tiny body flew out of his grip. Knowing I would be faster as a vampyre, I phased mid-flight—something I’d never done before while flying with wings. Hot air radiated behind me, growing stronger as it charged forth. I forced every ounce of energy into propelling myself faster, but he still gained on me. His essence slammed into mine with a scorching fire. I thought for sure I would solidify and I prepared myself mentally for a fight, but nothing happened. I realized then that he kept my molecules apart; forcing me to stay invisible so that I was completely helpless while he wrapped his essence tight around mine and carried me through space. I didn’t need to breathe in this form, but even so, the scalding heat of his atoms gave the overwhelming sensation of drowning in a pile of hot ash. My molecules burned, each one 81
trembled and choked. I kept waiting to explode. Then, suddenly, a bolt of electricity shot through my being. That’s it, I really exploded. A split second later, my molecules snapped together and I hit the ground. I wrapped my arms around my nudity and shivered. After coming very near to boiling, my numb skin was actually able to feel cold. A shrill battle cry tore from the snake’s throat, jerking my mind back into reality. I pushed myself to my feet and then faced the beast. He reeled his head back in pain as violet sparks exploded around us. I looked to the side, but I couldn’t see where the other attack came from. I ran to my crumpled clothes and yanked on the top and jeans, shoving my underwear into my back pocket. My gaze went back to the giant snake. His red piercing eyes narrowed and locked on mine. I knew in the pit of my stomach he was going to make a last-ditch attempt to strike me. My breath caught as the creature exposed his fangs and swung his jaws down. I dived out of the way, but not fast enough. A fang sliced through my right forefinger, taking the tip clean off my hand. Shock held my breath firmly in my chest as the beast crumpled on the sidewalk next to me. The snap of bones sounded through the air as his body transformed back into that of a half-rotted man. The searing pain in my finger reminded me to breath and screams erupted from my chest. Someone gripped my shoulders and dragged me away from the rotting vampyre. “Hush, child.” I glanced in the direction of the familiar voice. An ancient woman with wispy white hair peeking from under a black hooded cloak stood over me. Her ice blue eyes met my gaze and then winked. A new layer of fear knotted my stomach as I recognized the old Crone, but I could do nothing except grip my maimed hand in agony. Large welts bubbled over the skin as the venom ate away the flesh and bone. My entire body trembled from the pain. “Well that’s a nasty bite you got there.” She reached for my hand, but I curled away, worried her touch would inflict more torment. She sighed then snatched my wrist and yanked my whole arm in her direction. She stuck my fizzing digit into her ancient mouth and sucked. Bile rose to my throat. The Crone pulled my finger out of her mouth and then turned her head and spat.
“Can’t let this poison rot out your uterus,” she mumbled before closing her lips around my finger. Each time she turned to spit the poison out, the pain dulled a little. Finally, she held my hand at eye level and examined it. “There. All better.” It wasn’t better at all. My finger was gone. All that remained was a fleshy pink nub above the knuckle. A particular dryness stung my eyes, but I knew I was incapable of crying real tears, even now. “Thank you for saving me,” I managed, despite the uneasy lump in my throat. “Ye’re a mighty hard child to keep track of, but not hard enough.” She jerked her chin to indicate the huge vampyre that had attacked me. I pushed myself to my feet and then followed her gaze back to the scene she’d dragged me away from. The disgusting man trembled on the ground, curled tight in the fetal position. Purple light illuminated his skin and rotting wounds as if coming from within him. A second man stood off to the side, his arms crossed over his chest. He glared at the attacker, a violet sheen emanating from his eyes. “Valafar,” the Crone scolded. “For goodness’s sake, don’t kill him.” Valafar snickered then blinked to the side. The purple light died out along with the man’s screams. Smoke rose from the rotting holes in his body. As he struggled to push himself up, the Crone raised her voice and addressed him. “Go back to yer maker and tell him to show his cowardly face.” The man growled but phased, his essence disappearing in the distance. Something pressed lightly against my hip and I glanced down to find a sandy colored wolf nuzzling my side. “Lupa!” I kneeled and wrapped my arms around her thick neck. She gave an excited yelp and licked my face. “Oh, Lupa, I didn’t think I’d ever see you again.” I couldn’t help taking a quick glance around. Everything was still its normal color, not the crimson red that tinted the underworld. Relieved I was still in Berlin, I hugged Lupa a little tighter, noting the awkward blank space between my right thumb and middle finger. “We best get ya back behind some walls, child.” At that, the Crone started down the sidewalk, the hem of her cloak rustling gently as she floated over the ground. Lupa trotted after her. 83
“You wouldn’t happen to know where the hotel is, would you?” She snorted. “I know where several of them are.” I rolled my eyes. “Okay, do you know where the R.E.D. one is?” She lifted a boney finger and pointed down the road. I couldn’t see any sign of the hotel in the distance so I just followed her lead. Lupa walked next to me, her tail thumping lazily against my leg. Valafar kept his distance, choosing to walk on the other side of the street. I couldn’t help glancing at him. He stood tall, but his frame was very lean in a tight black turtleneck sweater and skinny girl jeans. A long striped scarf draped around his neck and thick tufts of black hair peeked out from under a knit cap. My subconscious urgently reminded me that it was mid-May and Valafar stuck out like a sore thumb in autumn garb. Then again, he looked completely normal next to the Crone’s black cloak. He kept his hands in his pockets and a smirk on his lips. He was good-looking in a young bohemian artist way, but his most dazzling feature, without a doubt, were his violet eyes. Somehow, I didn’t think Valafar was a vampyre or a vampire. He reeked of danger, but not in the same predatory way I associated with other vampyres. I contemplated phasing a bit of my hand to get a feel for his essence, but then he looked at me and I quickly glanced at the ground. “Not much farther now,” the old woman said. I looked down the road and spotted the hotel with its arched opening in the center. “No more goin’ for walks by yerself, ya hear? Ye’re in no condition to be fightin’ anyone.” I rolled my eyes. Even the Crone apprehended my lacking skills. I couldn’t help thinking this was Bridget’s fault for not training me better. It was one thing to fool around with Jesu behind my back, quite another to afford me a body part. When I glanced over my shoulder, the Crone, Lupa, and Valafar were gone. I looked around, but they’d completely vanished just as suddenly as they’d appeared. Sighing, I walked the remaining block to the cement building. Dusk ebbed over the sky. In the growing darkness, the building’s details sharpened. Murals peeked from the corners, painted by a skillful urban artist in bright Crayola colors. Deep orange colored the rest of the walls. The archway cloaked a grass-green stoop to the thick iron door. My gaze rose to an etching of a dragon ring scratched into a wooden sign above the door, an exact replica of the pendants the staff wore. 84
My fingers reached for the handle and then hesitated. I wasn’t sure I wanted to risk seeing Heidi or Bridget or anyone else while walking to my room. I phased past the iron door and continued flying as an invisible mist through the hall, up the elevator shaft, and then into the seventh floor where I allowed myself to solidify and walk the rest of the way to room 714. A deep breath I didn’t know I was holding rushed from my lungs. I held up my right hand and turned it this way and that way, trying to see the fleshy nub from all angles. It was completely healed. The skin wasn’t even pink or scarred. It was the same numb, pasty white as the rest of my body, as if I had never had a finger there to begin with. I wished it would hurt. Without pain, it all felt too dream-like. I’d wake up and my hand would be fine. I’d be in my bed, in my apartment in Chicago, next to Anthony. I would glance down and see that not only was my hand okay, but my skin was still tanned, my hair was still red, and the sun shining through the drapes was just an ordinary beam of light. I’d make myself a cup of coffee and get ready for work. Maybe later in the day, I’d chuckle about all this and wonder how the heck my subconscious could draw up such a bizarre nightmare. But I wasn’t dreaming. Sighing, I patted my jeans pockets in search of the key card. Suddenly the door behind me flung open and smacked its knob against the wall. I cringed not only at the sound, but at the scent of warm rain and sweet grass—of sunshine and earth and fresh air all tinged with chlorine—that rushed forth from the suite across mine. I immediately shoved my damaged hand into my pocket and then faced Jesu. He stood just inside the threshold, bewilderment and anger written in the lines creasing his forehead and the sternness of his gaze. He wore his usual black T-shirt and jeans. His hair hung limp in an untamed mass as though he’d let it air dry without brushing. All I could think about was, If not for the chlorine chemicals, Bridget’s scent would’ve been mingled with his. He kept his voice low and his steps surefooted as he entered the hall. “Where were you?” My feet carried me back until my spine pressed against the suite door. I was acutely aware of my hand in my pocket, the palm sweaty and flat between the thin denim. My arm twitched with the urge to move itself to a more comfortable position at my side, but I resisted. “Ema.” Jesu’s brow tightened at the center. “I searched the entire building. Where were you?” I bit my tongue and looked to the side. 85
His gaze lowered to my feet and then slowly rose back to my face. “Heidi said you literally disappeared.” Well shit. I rolled my eyes, hoping I’d successfully hidden my unease. “Heidi says a lot of things.” His brow arched. “What does that mean?” “Nothing.” I shrugged, feeling like an idiot and wanting to disappear. The events of the evening weighed on me. The attack, seeing Lupa and the Crone again, seeing Jesu with Bridget, it all happened so fast it tore a proverbial hole in my mental capacity level for bullshit. Jesu leaned close to my temple. The movement was swift and sudden and I inhaled a sharp breath as I twisted to the side and started at him. “Ema,” he whispered. “Were you outside?” The word rushed out of my mouth before I could stop myself. “No!” He leaned away and then looked down the hall at nothing while chewing his lip. A faraway gaze replaced his initial tight expression as his lips sank into a frown. “You smell like concrete and sewage.” I blinked and then tilted my head and sniffed. He was right. I smelled like a dirty grimy city. “Ema, the fact that you just lied about being outside is…” He stopped himself then closed his eyes and shook his head, releasing a breath. When his eyes opened again, he turned his whole body in my direction. His next question was nearly a plea. “Did something happen?” You have no idea…and that’s my cue to leave. “Everything is fine.” I smiled. As naturally as I could manage, I pulled the key card from my pocket with my left hand, faced the door, and then swiped it through the electronic lock. Turning the handle, I pushed open the door and entered the suite. I sighed in relief as it closed, grateful that Jesu didn’t protest me cutting our conversation short. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to talk to him; I know I needed to, but I needed time to think about what it all meant and to grieve over the loss of my finger. As if it were an afterthought, Jesu shoved the suite door open just before the latch caught. I jumped against the wall and tucked both hands behind my back as he barged into the room. He kicked the door shut with the heel of his boot and then crossed his arms and scowled. The green of his irises darkened to a stormy sea color. 86
“What really happened, Ema?” “Nothing,” I insisted while keeping my back to the wall. I crab walked along the length of the hallway toward my bedroom. Jesu’s lips pressed into a thin line as he kept pace. “So you, the newly turned, highly Upioran vampyre who can’t resist the smell of blood or flesh, just went for a stroll in downtown Berlin…and nothing happened? You honestly expect me to believe that?” “Well,” I mocked. “As it turns out, I’ve got a cure for the bloodlust problem and now it’s in the past.” He leaned his head back and wet his lips. “Oh really? And what is this cure?” “I can absorb human energy.” His gaze narrowed. “How did you discover this?” “Well…” I stopped short, realizing the trap I was metaphorically walking into. “While I was outside I phased a little bit of myself and the energy just…took over my system. I didn’t crave blood after that.” His brow furrowed as he kneaded his palms against his forehead and then ran all ten fingers through his hair, disgruntled. “So you thought it would be a good idea to go out in public, in a major city, by yourself without telling anyone, and test your powers?” “Pretty much.” “Ema!” “What?” He flung his arms in the air and grunted. “I do not believe you. You know better. You know the risks. You know what could have happened if you hadn’t been able to stop yourself, you know—” “Oh, okay,” I snapped. “So I’m just a human-eating monster incapable of any microscopic form of control, is that it? What is this hotel with no windows, a cage? Let me give you a tip for next time, don’t give the monster a key to its own prison!” I flicked the plastic card at his face and then wrenched the flimsy sliding panel open. I stepped behind the threshold and then slammed the panel shut. After that, I marched into the bathroom and slammed that door too. It made a much more satisfying noise and I locked it.
My fists clenched, which reminded me that I was missing a finger, and all my anger turned into hysteria. I swept both arms across the counter, flinging all the hotel toiletries across the room. They crashed against the marble walls and clattered to the floor. Jesu rushed forth with the force of a freight train and then stopped. His pulse pounded from the other side of the bathroom door as my gaze traveled to the sliver of space between the wood molding and the door’s edge. His shadow stood there, hesitant. I held my breath, my heart hammering against my chest, as I waited for him to ask if I was all right, if I was hurt, if I had fallen. I waited for him to crash through the door and rescue me from myself. He didn’t make a sound. I watched as his silhouette held perfectly still as though painted across the floor, a ghost image of the man my heart longed for, and I couldn’t touch him. I couldn’t grasp him or keep him. The shadow turned away and then left.
Chapter Nine Eventually I calmed enough to take a shower. After a few minutes soaking under the stream, I grabbed the shampoo bottle and then hesitated. The weight pressed against my maimed knuckle and suddenly felt ten pounds heavier. I worried I’d drop it so I switched hands. Washing my hair and body took twice as long. Brushing my teeth was just as awful. I wrapped a towel around my torso then faced the bathroom door. I’d been in here for over an hour feeling bad for myself before I finally bathed. I sucked in a deep breath then exhaled and opened the door. The oriental panel separating my bedroom from the rest of the suite was left open. The quiet calm of the space assured me that I was alone though Jesu’s scent lingered near the kitchen. I pushed his image out of my thoughts and focused on dressing. It was difficult not to think about the snake man. Every bump against the space between my thumb and middle finger as I opened the wardrobe’s drawers, every glide of fabric rubbing the skin as I awkwardly tugged on jeans and a T-shirt, brought the image of the acidic venom burning through my flesh and bone back to the forefront of my mind. I’ve seen Jesu transform into a house cat and I could transform myself into a wolf or a bat, but we were always the realistic size. I’ve never seen a vampyre transform into a giant animal. This guy…this thing…was enormous, and it wasn’t any prettier when it took its vampyre form. Whole parts of its body rotted through like bad meat. I couldn’t stop thinking about his tattoos, particularly the two snakes entwined in a double helix around a stick on his shoulder. My historian brain itched at the symbolism. The caduceus was a common symbol that popped up in almost every culture. Most people thought the caduceus was the logo for Western medicine, but I had a strong feeling this guy wasn’t a doctor or a prescription drug pusher. I needed a computer. There must have been one in this suite. The staff had equipped it with everything else imaginable, a laptop had to be stashed somewhere. I searched through my nightstand and wardrobe, then the living room, and finally the kitchen drawers. When nothing turned up, I took a gander in Jesu’s old bedroom—ignoring how empty it seemed despite the fact neither of us really owned anything here—and found a laptop on the nightstand. I brought it to the living room and set it on the coffee table then turned it on and waited for it to start up. Once the Internet connected, I searched “caduceus.” The search engine turned 89
up the usual information about medicine and DNA. I typed in “caduceus + ancient history” and tried again. This time I was given information about the Greek god Hermes and his staff. I knew all about Hermes from mythology 101, but my gut told me I was still off the mark. Hermes’ caduceus looked almost identical to the modern-day model. The tattoo on the snake man’s arm was much more simplistic by design, which meant it was older than classical Greece. I thought about his other tattoos, laced around his arms and chest, running between his disgusting rotted flesh. A shiver ran down my spine, but I forced myself to try to remember what they looked like. Come on, Ema. You can see every detail with vampyre vision. It’s there…focus. The image came back fuzzy at first, the scene dominated by his blood-red eyes and sulfuric stench, the scales that grew from his flesh as his body shifted. Focus on the tattoo, what were the symbols around it? The image sharpened in my mind and the details became clear. The shapes were mostly lines and triangles organized in patterns like an ancient alphabet, but they were far too simple to be hieroglyphics. I shook my head. I could only think of one civilization older than Egypt, and that was Samaria. Déjà vu rang like an alarm in my mind. Cuneiform tablets have mentions of vampyres. I typed “cuneiform” into the search engine and got several pictures of ancient script that looked just like the symbols tattooed on the man’s body. My breath hitched. Someone had written something all over the snake man’s skin and made it permanent. Was it a spell? Was that how he was able to turn into a giant snake? I plugged “caduceus + Sumerian” into the search engine. This time I was given a name I didn’t recognize. Enki. Further reading revealed that Enki was the Sumerian god of water and mischief. His symbol was a simple stick-like staff with two snakes entwined in a double-helix. Not only was the symbol an exact replica of the man’s tattoo, but the statues and sketches of the god shown on the computer screen looked precisely like the man who attacked me. I remembered what Leena told me while we were looking for Apollyon in the underworld; vampyres used to pose as gods of darkness, destruction, and death. They’d sit in temples and demand their human sacrifices. Obviously the R.E.D. wouldn’t allow that information on the Internet. They preferred their half-baked myths.
Why would Enki appear in an alley in downtown Berlin and attack me? My brow drew together in thought. There was one sure link between Enki and Apollyon; they were both from Samaria. They’d both lived there around the same time. It was possible they knew each other. It was possible they were neighbors, even buddies. If that was true, then this was beyond bad. I had to tell Jesu. At that moment, the suite door flew open. I jumped as a squeak punched from my throat. Jesu stood in the doorway, pocketing the spare key. I mentally chastised myself for not thinking to ask for the extra key after he’d gotten his own suite. Bridget’s scent mingled with his, darkening my thoughts and sending a stab of heat through my blood. I slid my right hand under my bottom. While watching Jesu from the periphery of my vision, I carefully angled the screen to face the far wall. Then my left hand joined the right in hiding. Jesu clenched his fists at his side and then marched into the living room. His brow furrowed, but his eyes were wide, showing more of the whites than the irises. I bit my lip, unsure if he was pissed-off or pissed-scared. What did he have to be scared about? No Samarian snake gods were cutting off his appendages. He opened his mouth wide as if to yell and I winced in anticipation of whatever he was going to say. Instead, his lips closed and he swallowed hard, his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down in a haggard sigh. Worry lines creased his forehead as his gaze searched my face. For what, I didn’t know. The gap between us wasn’t more than a foot wide, but it felt like Jesu and I could have been standing in opposite corners of the world. My lips parted to speak, but then I noticed a movement near the opened suite door. I glanced to the side to get a better look. Bridget stood in the hallway, her arms crossed. She narrowed her eyes in my direction. My lips pressed into a thin line and I glowered back, almost missing Jesu’s words. “Ema…you have been summoned by the Alpan king.” My attention snapped back to him. “I’ve been…what?” He sucked in a deep breath, not bothering to hide the shiver that rolled through him as he quickly exhaled. “We are to meet with him tomorrow morning.” I shook my head. “But…why?” Bridget spoke before Jesu could, plain indifference icing her accent. “Someone saw you phase outside and reported it to zee R.E.D. Zee summoning is merely for you to collect your sentence. If you refuse to make an appearance—” 91
“Bridget,” Jesu growled over his shoulder. “Can we have some privacy?” Her jaw clenched and she spoke through her teeth. “If she runs...” “Bridget.” His tone lowered. “Please leave.” “Fine,” she said, but she didn’t leave. She stood in the hall, her bowtie lips pressed in a tight pout. Jesu narrowed his gaze and stood his ground until she finally huffed and then marched out of my line of sight. He went to the door and then gently closed it. Facing me, he whispered, “Ema, I cannot help you if you are not honest with me. You said you only phased a little bit of yourself.” I grimaced, ashamed at the mess I’d made. “I might have phased a bit more than that.” He whimpered as he neared the living room. “What did you do, Ema?” “Does it matter? Would they even give me a trial?” “Yes, Nikolas will hear your side of the story and consider it. But Ema…if your account doesn’t match up with what was reported…” He shook his head. “I need to know the level of damage you are facing.” I inhaled deeply and then released the truth. “I jumped over a busy street and phased my entire body in mid-leap over traffic.” He rolled his head back and groaned. “I was going to kill a pedestrian, but I didn’t.” My voice rose, needing him to believe me. “I didn’t, Jesu. I was telling the truth about being able to absorb human energy. As soon as I realized it, I took cover in an alley and turned back into myself.” Jesu scrubbed his face with both hands. “Oh, Ema.” “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to. I tried really hard to not react, but there were just so many humans and I couldn’t help it. But I didn’t hurt anyone, Jesu, and never have to. I know that now.” “Why were you even outside?” My gaze fell to my lap and my fingers tingled beneath me, going numb from my own weight. “That was an accident.” Jesu crumpled onto the couch cushion next to me, his torso deflating in an exasperated sigh. “The worst the Alpan king will do is banish me from his territory, right? That’s what the R.E.D. requires, right? That’s not so bad.” 92
“Ema, that is practically all of Western Europe. Besides, you are safest here in Germany.” My gaze flickered to the laptop and I didn’t think Jesu was correct about my safety. A change in location might be just what the doctor ordered, but I remembered what Jesu had told me. He was positive that Naamah picked this location because King Nikolas had a bad history with Apollyon. I wondered, if we were anywhere else, would Apollyon have come for me himself instead of sending his buddy? If an ancient all-powerful first generation vampyre like Apollyon thought twice about crossing paths with Nikolas, then I was really screwed. I had openly broken the rules and put the Alpan clan at risk. I had probably pissed off King Nikolas. I was more than screwed, I was dead meat. “What do I do?” Jesu answered slowly, considering each word. “When we meet with him, let me do all the talking. You are a very young vampyre. I might be able to convince Nikolas to let you go with a warning.” I nodded in agreement, but my thoughts raced. I decided not to tell him about Enki. At least not yet. Jesu’s plan would be plan A. If that didn’t work, telling Nikolas about Enki and Apollyon would be plan B. Worst-case scenario, if both plans failed, I would have to leave Western Europe which would clear me from Apollyon’s radar for a while. What did I have to lose?
Maria My fingers rested over the keyboard of Naamah’s laptop as I stared at the screen. Part of me wished Jesu would write back so I could have a peace of mind, but he was smarter than that and I took pride in his resistance. “You should stop emailing them.” My husband kept his voice soft as he fumbled with his tie in front of the full-length mirror in our bedchamber. “Lie low for a while.” I stood and then straightened the neck piece for him. “Tell me true, my love, is there no way the Council can stop him?” Resentment and sadness shone in his black eyes. “There is nothing we can legally do.” “Then hang the laws, we are vampyres. We can handle this the old fashioned way.” “Shh.” He cupped my hands and brought them to his lips. “Have patience, Maria.” I swallowed my frustrations and then nodded. “Are you ready for this?” “We have no choice.” He smiled weakly. Still holding each other, we phased and then flew to the foyer where we solidified. Victor already waited by the door, his expression tight. He eyed me and I smiled wide, showing fang. Naamah cleared his throat; his way of warning me to be civil. Nitrogen leaked into the air from the hall. My senses prickled as a wave of motion shifted the atmosphere. Apollyon’s invisible presence raced toward us. My instincts traced the movement of his molecules and my gaze followed them as he flew overhead. He paused near the center of the vaulted ceiling and thickened into a black billowy silhouette of himself, his abominable pets flanking his sides. He jerked his blackened head in the direction of the castle door, signaling for us to follow, and then melted into an invisible mist once more. He disappeared past the thick wood barrier of the castle’s entrance. Victor phased and then joined them. Naamah squeezed my hand. The pressure of his masculine grip faded into a warm vibrant energy that mingled with my own essence as we dispersed and flew past the castle doors. We easily caught up to the others, their energy a wave of heat in an otherwise crisp early summer night. Our travel was quick, a dead shot straight south to Brahelinna Castle. The castle’s construction was never finished and its materials were stripped away by the 1800s. All that remained of Brahelinna were a few fragmented lengths of stone wall hidden in ivy, and an abandoned cellar that was only accessible by those whose elements could pass through solid 94
objects. Despite the vacancy, Brahelinna had become a tourist site that sat uncomfortably close to the main road near the coast of Lake Yävasi and the Ristiina municipal. For that reason, we dared not solidify until we were underground, past the cellar ruins, inside a vast secret chamber. Pitch black swallowed us as we solidified. My husband struck a match and lit a torch mounted on the wall opposite the one we’d flown through. This room was not an original part of the castle. It had been hollowed out and finished with brick walls by the Neo-Draugrian Council; a hidden sanctuary reserved for affairs of grave importance, matters of emergency. Apollyon strode to the center, slowly glancing around the room, taking in every minuscule detail of his surroundings. He stopped and struck his fist into the air in the direction of his undead entourage. His fingers spread wide and flitted about as he swept his arm through the air, gesturing to the walls. The crew spread out to encompasses the perimeter of the room. They turned their backs to the walls and faced their master. Then their bodies shimmered and began to vibrate. Their flesh turned into sand and one by one they sank into the ground. I grimaced as I watched them disappear. This would not be a fair fight. The Master gestured at Victor, Naamah, and me. “You will carry on as planned.” He vanished into the shadows, leaving only the three of us in the room. I glanced at my husband, who glanced at Victor, who sneered at us. I wished I could slap his vindictive head off his neck. With nothing to do but wait until the Council arrived, I took in the construction of the area. I knew the place well, having overseen its creation. The chamber was a perfect square design, simple, yet dungeon-like. A low platform made of bricks rose from the ground along the eastern wall. The only form of decoration was a plain arch in the southwest corner which marked the location of castle’s natural cellar. The atmosphere near the arch crackled, raising the fine hairs on my arms as the first Council member arrived. My back stiffened as the vampyre’s essence solidified. Stefán blinked a few times to dispel the harsh torchlight before setting his sights on us. His piercing gaze narrowed in on Victor and his voice bellowed. “What is going on, what is that traitor doing here? This ground belongs to the Council!” Naamah held up a hand, palm forward. “All will be revealed tonight, my friend, but it would do no good to repeat myself. Let us wait for the others—”
“I demand an answer!” Stefán marched swiftly toward us. The ground trembled with each stomp. Stefán was a lot of vampyre; a steel tank of a man with a volatile temper to match. I wondered if the abominable things in the ground shook too. “Under what circumstances could he possibly be allowed to stand among us?” “Calm yourself, Stefán,” I warned. Quit allowing yourself to be fooled, idiot. “I am an Arm. I am within my right to tear his knees out so he will bow to us for the rest of his life.” Victor’s lips curled back in a snarl. My fists clenched. As much as I’d love to see Victor try to take on Stefán and fail, I was prepared to stand between them and see that nothing interfered with the Master’s plan. Thankfully, my husband stepped in first. “You might be an Arm, Stefán, but I am a Hand and Second-in-Command. I stand as a representative of the Head in his absence. To act against my command is to act against the command of His Majesty the Prince.” Naamah squared his shoulders and leveled his gaze. “Do you wish to continue your quarrel, Stefán á Drekann?” Stefán growled in Victor’s direction, but he stepped back and lowered his head. “No, sir. My life is to serve you as I serve the Prince. I mean no disrespect.” He backed into a corner and stood with his arms crossed over his wide chest. A sigh blew from my lips and my shoulders relaxed, but it was short lived as guilt wracked my heart. Move away from the shadows before you get hurt, you big oaf. More Council members arrived through the arched bricks or sank through the ceiling. Each one had an opinion about Victor that matched Stefán’s. Naamah and I did our best to calm everyone, promising that all would be answered in time, but the lie singed my soul. Each promise of loyalty, servitude, trust, cooperation, was another flame held under my heart. The murmur of opinions buzzed through the room as the chamber quickly grew crowded with vampyres. I stopped paying attention to their chatter, their suspicions. They were all about to die and none of them suspected a thing. It wasn’t right; to die without the chance to defend one’s self. My stomach twisted in knots. Some of them might have challenged mine and my husband’s authority over the years, but they were all our friends, even that thundering ogre, Stefán. My senses were acutely aware of the Master’s presence. He wasn’t truly in the room with us but small traces of his essence stretched thin over the area like and invisible net. He most 96
likely read the waves of energy in the room, getting a feel for the situation. The majority of him waited someplace else entirely, probably in the forest above ground. The distance masked his scent and feel from the unsuspecting crowd. It was difficult to discern our individual scents when we were all tightly packed in the same space. But if they had known, if they had any suspicion of him at all, they would have seen through his decoy like a blaze in a haystack. My husband gently, but swiftly wrapped an arm around my waist and leaned close to my ear. “They are all accounted for, my love.” I wet my lips and then whispered under my breath. “We best not keep the Master waiting.” Naamah met Victor’s gaze and nodded. Victor nodded back and then mumbled in a soft tone. I caught sight of Stefán in the corner of my vision as he half-phased half-marched through the crowd, advancing toward us. “Incoming,” I warned my husband. “Naamah, Maria, we are all in attendance. Tell us now what this meeting is about.” “Yeah!” everyone demanded. I inhaled sharply and looked to Naamah as his muscles tensed against my touch. I gathered my courage and squeezed his hand for support. His spine straightened and his chest puffed as he inhaled a deep breath. He opened his mouth to address his colleagues—but stopped short as Victor stepped around us and met Stefán’s gaze. “He is no longer your Second-in-Command. He has been demoted.” Stefán unsheathed a dagger and swung his arm around. “I am tired of your disrespect—” “Stefán, no!” I shoved Victor aside and took his place before the Icelandic vampyre. My hands went to my side to stop the dagger’s path to my kidney. Stefán’s eyes widened in panic and he halted his attack, but not in time. The blade’s tip pierced my palm. I winced, forcing my hand to disperse into a mist and dissolve the weapon along with it. “Why did you defend him?” Stefán’s grip fell away from the molecules of his dagger’s hit and the weapon reformed in my hands. Naamah placed a hand on my shoulder and then stepped forward, forcing Stefán to back away. “What Victor says is true. I am not your Second-in-Command anymore. Victor is.” A collective gasp sounded throughout the room. Then everyone started talking at once. “Only Prince Jalmari has the power to reinstate a Hand without a vote!” 97
“The Prince should be here, where is he?” “On the contrary.” Victor’s voice rose over the crowd. “There is one man whose command trumps your pathetic prince, and that is the King.” Everyone narrowed their gazes at Victor like he was a tick in their leg until a voice bellowed over them. “Right you are, soldier.” My breath hitched and I forced the dagger into my skirt pocket. A chill seeped under my skin as my gaze found the Master. He strode across the platform, a foot above everyone else. Naamah gently tugged my elbow and we floated silently into the shadows along the corner of the eastern wall. Victor moved with the same stealth to the western corner. The crowd didn’t notice as all eyes watched the stage. They spoke Apollyon’s name to one another, first as a question, then as a conviction. “Yes.” He grinned. “It is I, King Apollyon, and I have been watching you…all of you. It is a shame not a single one of you remained loyal to me. Not one of you took advantage of the beautiful heaven I left behind when you thought my life had perished. Not even my own son had the sense to be grateful and nurture the empire I’d left him.” He paused and chuckled to himself. “I lay in hell in vain.” He paced the other way, his gaze narrow as he looked over the Council members. They gaped back at him, some shaking their heads in disbelief. The fear mounting inside them as their faces paled was almost palpable. Only a few members were old enough to have known Apollyon in his first life, but the rest knew of his legend, of the things he had done and was capable of doing. I held tight to Naamah’s arm in anticipation. “Victor was the only one to hold fast the life I tried to give you,” he continued. “So yes, I promoted him, and now, I am demoting all of you.” With a wave of his hand, thick clouds of sand burst forth from the ground, quickly forming into flesh and scales, muscles and fangs. The Saga-Giga surrounded the room, their gigantic forms commanding the space. Before the others realized what was going on, the snakes wound themselves around several Council members and struck. The venom burned like acid, eating through their bodies before they could heal. They dropped dead in seconds, nothing more than blackish-red bubbling puddles of flesh. 98
Some fought back and some managed to phase away, but so many more faces I knew one minute were dead and gone the next. The desire to jump in and fight erupted in my chest. A deep growl reverberated from my throat and I struggled against Naamah’s hold. He held tight, his arms wrapped around my shoulders and across my chest, his every essence fighting to keeping me from phasing. “Let go,” I shouted through the screams of my peers. “Maria, stop! Think of the consequences.” “To hell with the consequences.” Dying in battle was an honor. Watching my friends being slaughtered in an ambush was cowardly. Rage built fast inside me and I did not want to control it. How could Naamah hold me back? How could he stand to watch this massacre? A woman shrieked. The scent of her pain and fear was almost a physical blow to my senses, forcing my attention to the source of the sound. Apollyon stood in the center of the chaos, hunched over someone. I couldn’t see who as too many bodies flittered in and out of my vision. I trained my hearing on the Master’s voice and tuned out the rest of the crowd. “Where is my ring?” he shouted. The woman’s voice was a throaty gurgle. “I don’t have it.” My eyes widened with recognition. Helldora. He has Helldora! I wriggled against the weight of my husband. “I know my boy gave it to you,” said Apollyon. “I…don’t…have…it.” “Then where is it?” “I’ll never…tell…you.” A deep growl was followed by Helldora’s screams. I couldn’t take it anymore. I writhed around and bit Naamah’s neck, holding nothing back as I clamped down on his jugular. His breath hitched and his muscles stiffened as he tried to keep his hold. My lover’s blood flowed freely over my mouth and I sucked it in, taking full advantage of the effect it would have on him. He grunted and I moaned as a tingly heat raced to my womanhood. My fingers dug into his biceps as our pulses began to shift, mine slowing and his speeding up. He growled in attempt to fight it, but the climax quickly passed through him and his concentration faltered, causing his
grip to loosen. I dispersed my elements and shot away, ignoring the tremors in my groin and the sting in my chest as adrenaline coursed through my blood. I solidified seconds before hitting Apollyon. My hands drew Stefán’s dagger from my pocket and I shoved my entire weight against the hilt as the blade sank into Apollyon’s shoulder. He tumbled back, shock and bewilderment coloring his features. I paid him no attention as I dropped to Helldora’s side. Red stained the lovely Norwegian vampyre’s abdomen and pain glazed over her dark eyes. I raised my wrist to my lips and tore open a vein with my teeth, intent on helping her heal with my own blood. A hard blunt object suddenly struck the side of my head. White stars danced in the periphery of my vision as I fell onto my side. Helldora’s eyes slowly rolled crosswise to look at me. Her lips moved and her gaze pleaded. If any words came from her lungs, I missed their meaning in the savage battle cries of the scene around us. My head swam and I struggled to push myself up when a second blow knocked me unconscious.
Chapter Ten I paced from the kitchen to the living room. Jesu had excused himself so he could “freshen-up.” Meanwhile, I changed into something that I hoped would be appropriate for meeting royalty. My fingers twitched. I slid my hands over the knee-length skirt and then muttered curses under my breath as the sweat wrinkled the chiffon fabric. I went to the bathroom and checked my reflection for the one-millionth time. I wore a powder blue cardigan that fuzzed like a molting blue jay. It was the only article of clothing in the wardrobe that had deep front pockets that I could shove my hands into without looking suspicious. I didn’t know how much longer I could keep my missing finger a secret. A knock sounded at the front door. I opened it with my left hand, shoving the right into the depths of the sweater. Jesu stood in the hall dressed in a black button-down shirt and dark blue jeans with his signature biker boots. He scanned me and then cocked his brow. “You look, um…” “Frumpy?” I offered. “I was going to say wooly.” “Can we just get this over with?” He nodded. “Bring the sunglasses.” I patted my pocket to indicate I’d already thought of that. Jesu nodded in approval and then stepped aside. He followed me into the elevator. A minute later, we entered the lobby. Kirstin glanced at us from under down-cast lashes as she chatted softly into the headset. I wondered if she knew what was going on. Had her cousin Heidi told her about my disappearance? Had King Nikolas contacted Heidi last night? Was Heidi the one who told Jesu of my summoning? If that was the case, the whole hotel staff would know by now. The same gentleman who drove us here just four days ago came through the main door and held it open for us. I swallowed my nerves and then phased the back of my neck which was covered by my loose hair. Human energy carried on the light morning breeze billowing into the lobby. The energy found the invisible particles of my neck and seeped into my body. It filled my lungs with a calmness that spread outward to my fingers and toes. It settled in my stomach, dousing the fire that I had come to associate as the thirst. Breathing a sigh of serene relief, I solidified my neck, put on the sunglasses, and confidently exited the hotel. I didn’t wait for the driver to open the limousine door. I climbed 101
right in, using only my left hand for balance as I scooted to the other side. Jesu joined me, his own black glasses firmly protecting his eyes from the washed-out light of day. The driver carried us around the block and then turned down a main road, headed toward the thick of downtown. This time, I kept my eyes glued to the sights outside the tinted windows. Colors and details were difficult to discern even through two layers of tinted glass filtering the rising light, but I was determined to see some of Berlin, especially if this was to be my last day here. Pedestrians strode along the sidewalks, groggy from the early hour. I knew I could kill them easily. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I would always be aware of how fragile they were, but for the first time, I didn’t crave their life force like a drug junkie. I breathed in and then sighed in contentment. “You are a little too calm for someone who is going to trial,” Jesu murmured. “It’s not every day I get to see Berlin.” I turned to face Jesu. “Really see it, not just its humans.” Jesu was still for moment and then nodded in understanding. “Oh look.” I leaned across him and gestured past the window by tilting my head. “It’s the Brandenburg Gate.” I marveled at the gigantic gate made of twelve pillars and concrete panels. I gawked like a silly tourist, but I didn’t care. I didn’t get to see much of Helsinki and I wasn’t going to let circumstances repeat. The famed tarnished bronze statue of a woman riding a chariot drawn by four horses at the top of the Brandenburg gate was difficult to see from my angle inside the limo. I sighed anyway, taken by the majestic architectural beauty and the history hidden beneath. “The Quadriga of Victory is a symbol of peace, you know. She’s so beautiful and free up there.” “Perhaps that is a good omen,” Jesu murmured. I pushed away from him and sat upright. Maybe I should’ve been thinking more seriously about the meeting with King Nikolas. Jesu cleared his throat and then crossed and uncrossed his legs before folding his hands together on his lap. Oh yeah, he was nervous, but I could only see this trial going one of three ways and no matter how I played the scenario in my mind, every outcome seemed to be in our favor. Unless…unless there was something Jesu wasn’t telling me. I tried my best to word my question delicately. 102
“Will Bridget meet us there?” Jesu’s pallor dropped a few shades lighter and he swallowed, but when he looked at me, his brow pulled together and his voice was stern. “Of course not. Why would she?” “Just want to be prepared.” I shrugged. He pressed a tiny button and a panel rose to block the driver’s view. Jesu’s expression softened. “King Nikolas and his wife are…well…they are very old. They expect manners. Curtsies, polite conversation, that sort of thing.” “I can curtsy.” Really, was I that un-ladylike that Jesu felt he needed to warn me? “Just remember to let me speak for you, all right?” I wanted to protest. Instead I sucked in a deep breath and nodded in cooperation. The fact was Jesu knew these people who were going to be judging me, and I didn’t. “Do you know who saw me phase? I mean, do you know who reported it to King Nikolas?” He paled again. “No, I do not know who it was.” “I just think it’s curious that a random Good Samaritan would report me. I mean, how many vampyres here know my name? How would Nikolas know it was me?” Jesu chewed his lip but didn’t say anything or even look in my direction. I dropped the topic. It was obvious talking about it made him nervous. The limo slowly rolled to a stop in front of a sky rise building made of reflective glass and metal beams. The design was modern and I couldn’t tell if I was looking at office units or an apartment complex. The driver opened the door and I scooted out after Jesu. The man then went ahead of us and opened the main door of the building, ushering us inside. I wasn’t sure I’d get used to being waited on, but I was grateful for the service as I buried my hands deeper into the cardigan’s pockets. Florescent lights lit the lobby. This struck me as odd for a building used by vampyres. I winced against the bright yellow haze only barely tolerable under my black sunglasses. The sweet scent of human flesh wafted into my nostrils, quickly doubling in strength as we neared the receptionist. She greeted us with a smile and a few pleasantries in German. Jesu gripped my shoulder and squeezed hard. I wondered if he was expecting me to pounce on the woman. Usually he would’ve been correct to be cautious, but in this moment I had no desire to harm the woman. The thirst in my gut remained in check by the energy I had absorbed before leaving the hotel. 103
“We have an appointment with Nikolas der Wölfe,” Jesu spoke. His grip stayed strong on my shoulder and the tingle of pressure was getting annoying. I tried to casually shrug him off, but he didn’t take the hint. The human’s pulse quickened and a scent rose from her skin. I could only describe it as fear. Was she afraid of Nikolas, or was she afraid of us? Did she know what we were? I wondered which of us frightened her more and figured it had to be the pale blue undertones of Jesu’s skin. Her chair squealed as she shifted her weight and then pointed down the hall. “Die aufzug. Siebzehnten stock.” Jesu tensed behind me, gently tugging my shoulder to signify that I should follow. I wriggled out of his grasp and scowled. “You could have let go.” He stared at his hand apologetically and then smoothed the palm over his jeans. I scoffed and then looked to the elevators, waiting for him to press the button. Instead he jerked his chin in the direction of the stairwell door. “Let’s walk it.” “Ooo-kay.” My brow arched as I followed him. “What floor did the receptionist say to go to?” He shoved both fists into his jeans pockets and started climbing. “Seventeenth.” “Seventeenth?” “Seventeenth,” he repeated. “If I was still human, I’d laugh my ass off and then take the elevator without you. Any reason why you want to walk that many flights?” I looked at his backside while keeping pace. He shrugged. “To prolong the inevitable?” “I’ll say. Won’t that look suspicious?” “We can always say the elevator broke.” I scoffed. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to know that he was still trying to figure out what exactly he’d say to Nikolas on my behalf. I didn’t think there was anything Jesu could say that would make much difference, but I kept quiet and allowed him a few minutes alone with his thoughts. By the time we reached the tenth floor, a pleasant ache manifested in my calves. Jesu and I ascended the stairs side by side, the only sound coming from the souls of our shoes. His gaze locked on the floor, no longer thoughtful, just spacy. I figured he’d finished formulating a plan and was content in the silence. 104
I wasn’t. “Can I ask you something?” He glanced at me from the corner of his eye and then went back to watching the stairs. “Of course.” “Why is there a human receptionist working here? Does she know what we are?” “This building is owned by the city now. A few different companies rent the office space. I imagine that young woman is ignorant to the half-brethren on the seventeenth floor.” “So Nikolas conducts criminal trials in a semi-public building?” I winced, imagining a more serious law-breaker, like Apollyon, being dragged through the halls in a straightjacket. Jesu chuckled. “Not always here. Your misdemeanor is very minor. The Alpan king expects your trial to pass quickly and without complication.” “Oh.” We reached the seventeenth floor. Jesu sucked in a deep breath and then opened the door. I pulled my bottom lip between my teeth and bit down until I tasted copper. It dawned on me that this was it. There was no going back and at least a million things could go horribly wrong. With a gulp, I left the stairwell behind. The space opened to a small reception area blocked off from the rest of the level with glass sliding doors and a plastic panel curtain. A short rail-thin man dressed formally in slacks and a striped button-down shirt stood to the side of the desk. Though his closely shaven hair and facial features were African, his skin tone was a light ash-gray color and he smelled faintly of predator. His gaze met ours. His eyes were completely black with no whites, like an animal’s. He nodded once in acknowledgment and then went back to staring into space with his freakishly huge pupils. I glanced at Jesu and cocked my brow. “Queen Cecelia’s servant,” he explained. The glass door slid open and a second man stepped out. This man was tall, broad shouldered and walked with his spine ramrod straight. His lips rose just enough to show fang as he approached us. His skin was the usual vampyre-pale, his hair short yet wispy and combed back. He had the Alpan signature gold eyes. Is this King Nikolas? Should I curtsy? “Tancred,” said Jesu as though answering my thoughts. “It has been a long time.”
“Prince Jesu.” Tancred’s accent was almost nonexistent, but his tone was harsh nonetheless. He looked me over and his right brow arched disapprovingly. “I assume you are the accused?” I swallowed and then nodded. “Remove your glasses please.” Jesu and I both did as he said and surrendered our sunglasses to the man. “Hold both hands out in front of you please.” A jolt of panic tensed my muscles and I took a step back. “Wh…what?” Jesu stepped to the side, placing himself behind me, and my back bumped against his chest. He rested both hands on my shoulders and mumbled into my ear. “It is just a cautionary procedure, Ema.” In an apologetic tone, he spoke to Tancred, “She is but a few months old. She does not know many of our ways.” “Then you should teach her quick. King Nikolas is waiting.” Jesu hesitated and then came around to my side and face me. “He is going to place a metal band around each of your wrists to ensure that you do not phase while in the King’s company. Should you try to phase, the bands will emit an electric shock strong enough to jolt you back into solid form.” I glared at him. “Well that is the most barbaric—” “Know that there will be consequences if you continue to resist,” Tancred warned. A slight sing-song tone colored his words like he enjoyed my frustration. I tilted my head to level my gaze with his. Sure enough, a sly little smile graced his features. Heat rose to my cheeks and my fists tightened inside the pockets. Jesu spoke through clenched teeth. “Just cooperate, Ema.” I couldn’t. This idiot was going to ruin my plan, and yet, what choice did I have? My fangs ground together as I slowly raised both fists from the sweater pockets, hoping like hell that I could successfully cover up the little blemish with my thumb. My whole face burned with anger as my fingernails tore into the skin of my palms. The final inch of fuzzy yarn fell away, exposing both hands. I held my breath as my arms raised to shoulder level, bringing my scorching hot fists to full-front. At first, no one reacted. A shimmer of hope eased the rage burning in my chest. Then Jesu gasped out loud. I flinched at his reaction. He was quick to catch and correct himself as he 106
regained his natural composure, but it was too late. I saw the disappointment in his eyes. My fangs gnashed together so hard I could have broken my jaw. Tancred tsked. “Don’t worry, doll. Everyone here has a few battle scars.” I glared at him as he removed two thin aluminum bands from his pocket and secured them tightly around each of my wrists. The bands were no more than half an inch wide. Tiny metal prongs lined the inside and poked against my skin. A small digital screen attached to the outside. Tancred pulled out a small remote control with only two buttons on it. He aimed it at one of the little screens and then pressed a button. He repeated the motion with my other wrist and then pocketed the device. “Now be a good lass and don’t electrocute yourself.” He turned toward the glass door while flexing his index finger in a follow me motion. I released an agitated stream of air from my lungs and then glanced at Jesu. A mistake, I realized, as he stared wide-eyed at my maimed hand. I shoved both fists into the cardigan’s pockets and marched after Tancred. We stepped into a large conference room with bleach white walls and white tiled floors. Retro 70s style couches lined the perimeter, upholstered in slate gray with red trim. White bar tables and high red chairs stood near a vending machine along the opposite end. Fluorescent light fixtures mounted the ceiling, but they remained turned off. Large windowpanes lined the right wall. The blinds were drawn, but plenty of light shone through the cracks and I averted my gaze from that side of the room. Three couches were pushed close together in a “U” shape with an accent table in each corner and a low coffee table in the center. An enormous man sat on the center sofa facing us. His black shirt stretched thin over his broad shoulders and bulging biceps. Coils upon coils of muscle wound around his thick arms. I couldn’t imagine him wearing a jacket without ripping it. Even his trousers failed to hide the breadth of his thighs as his knees extended from the too-small space between the couch and the table’s edge. Next to the man sat a woman who matched him in breadth, but where the man was all rock-solid muscle, the woman was plump and soft, wearing gray dress pants and a canary yellow blouse. They both had the Alpan gold eyes and the vampyre signature jet-black hair, though hers was cut into a stylish bob with thick bangs and his was drawn back in a long braid at the nape of his neck. Somehow they made a very charming picture.
“My Lord and Lady,” Tancred bellowed while approaching them. “I introduce to you the accused, and her accompanier, Prince Jesu ta Korento.” My throat turned into sandpaper as Tancred bowed. Was my trial officially starting? Here? I hadn’t expected it to be so informal. I wasn’t sure if that would work to my advantage or against it. Jesu stepped past me, approaching the king and queen. He bent at the waist in a deep bow. I followed the men’s example and dipped my knees toward the floor, hoping the awkward curtsy was an acceptable one. “Prince Jesu.” The queen’s eyes creased at the corners as she smiled and held a polished hand lightly in front of her. “How fares your dear brother?” Jesu took her hand and kissed the top of it. “Not well, I am afraid. His mate has recently met her death.” Her shocked expression actually seemed sincere. “Oh, do send him my regards. Leena was such a strong spirited woman, even if she wasn’t a vampyre.” That’s putting it mildly, I thought and then I felt bad because Leena had been kind to me during her final moments. Jesu sat on the couch to the right, across from King Nikolas. He gestured for me to join them and I sat next to him, in corner opposite of the queen. “Would you care for a drink?” she asked. Before either of us could answer, she waved down her servant. “Rudo, fetch the bottles I brought for our guests.” The gray vampire rushed to one of the bar tables in the back of the room. “My dear, this is a sentencing, not a tea party.” Nikolas’ voice was gruff, but surprisingly gentle. His wife waved her hand dismissively. “That doesn’t mean they need go thirsty. Besides, we haven’t caught up with the Korentos in years.” “Actually.” Jesu sat straighter. “I could use a drink, if that is all right?��� “Sure, sure,” Nikolas said happily enough. Rudo returned with a tray on top of which sat enough shot glasses, scotch glasses, and spoons for each of us along with a small dish of sugar cubes, a goblet of water, a large glass bottle filled with a thick red liquid, and a green liquor bottle labeled Absinthe. I nearly choked on my own breath. What the hell kind of trial was this?
Rudo set the tray on the low table in the center. He distributed the shot glasses, including one for Tancred even though he remained standing. Rudo then filled each shot glass with the lime green alcohol. He opened the second bottle and I recognized its contents immediately by the smell. Blood. I tried to swallow the gnawing nervousness as he filled the scotch glasses, but my throat was far too dry. Maybe they’re going to bloodlust the truth out of me? Cecelia helped herself, spooning a single sugar cube and then bringing it to her shot glass. She dribbled water over the cube until it dissolved into the glass. I knew absinthe was traditionally prepared this way, but the fact that vampyres would drink alcohol at all struck me as odd. Water alone tasted like licking an ash tray. I was certain the sugar and alcohol would taste the same, so why bother with it? Why not just slam the absinthe straight-up for the buzz that, in fact, wouldn’t have much effect on us anyway since we heal so fast. Our systems would break down the alcohol before we could get drunk. Cecelia sipped a bit of the green liquid and then chased it with the blood. When the king didn’t move to prepare his drink, Jesu bent over the low table and started dribbling water over his own sugar cube. I glared at him and clenched my fangs to avoid voicing a few choice words in front of His Majesty. Tancred prepared his beverage last. “You are allowed a drink with us, sweet thing,” Cecelia said to me, between sips. Heat rose to my cheeks and I glance at my lap. “Thank you, but I’m not thirsty.” Nikolas rubbed his temple. “Very well, let us do what we all came here for.” Jesu downed his shot in one gulp then silently sipped a glass of blood. My eyes widened. Was he that sure we’d fail? “Please state your name, madam.” Turning my attention to Nikolas, I drew in a breath and opened my mouth to answer him. “Her name is Ema,” Jesu said. “Ema ta Korento.” The Neo-Draugrian surname caught me off guard, but I stopped myself from looking at Jesu like he was crazy. I remembered our agreement to let him speak on my behalf and I understood what he was doing. It would be best if Nikolas and Cecelia thought I belonged to a clan. “Very well, Miss Korento.” Nikolas’ golden eyes never wavered from my direction. “An anonymous witness saw you phase in public at approximately five forty-three p.m. yesterday 109
when you jumped over French Street and phased your entire body during mid-leap. No humans were reportedly harmed as a result, but several human on-lookers stopped what they were doing to spectate. As such, you are hereby accused of breaking the law, putting the Alpan clan at odds with the R.E.D., and potentially endangering the species as a whole. Do you understand what you are being held accountable for, Miss Korento?” I glanced at Jesu from the periphery of my vision. He wet his lips then gave a slight nod. I inhaled a deep breath and then faced Nikolas. “Yes, I understand.” “Punishment for such an act is a minimum thirty year exile from the Alpan territory. Do you understand the charges?” “Yes, I—” “With all due respect, Your Highness,” Jesu interrupted. “Ema is but a few months old and this is her first offense. I assure you it was purely accidental. Could we negotiate a lesser punishment?” “Negotiation denied, Prince Jesu. This is her second offense. She is wanted for murder in your clan.” “She is not guilty of the first offense.” I rolled my eyes. Of course Jalmari’s stupid warrant would come up. I should’ve thought of that. Nikolas raised a hand to silence Jesu. “I’m afraid the seriousness of her actions has made the R.E.D. higher-ups feel threatened. They will make my life a living hell if the minimum sentence is not given.” Jesu leaned forward “Then, charge me instead. Ema is without a sire. I volunteered to be her instructor and caregiver. It is my fault she was outside alone in the first place and I accept full responsibility. It is the law to hold the vampire’s sire responsible.” My breath hitched. I didn’t know what taking my place meant or how it would help our situation, if at all. “This is ridiculous.” Tancred slammed his empty shot glass on the table. “A vampire cannot volunteer to be the sire of another vampire; there is nothing that binds them together.” Nikolas raised a hand in Tancred’s direction and the vampyre settled back with a grumble. Nikolas eyed Jesu. “I will not charge you in her place. You may not be a vampyre, Jesu, but you are still Jalmari’s brother and accusing you will require the presence of the entire 110
Council. Thirty years is but a slap on the hand, let’s not make this complicated.” Nikolas faced me. “Do you understand the charges, Miss Ema ta Korento?” I wet my lips and then swallowed. “Yes, sir, I do.” “How do you plead?” My fingers twitched inside the sweater’s pockets. Jesu failed to soften the blow and now it was completely on me to turn things around. I had hoped it wouldn’t come to this, but somehow I knew it would. It was time for plan B. I hope this works. “I am guilty of my actions, sir, but they were done in self-defense.” From the corner of my eye, I noticed Jesu narrow his gaze. Nikolas cocked a brow. “Guilty is guilty, my dear.” “Nik,” Cecelia scolded. “The R.E.D. is not above us. Let’s at least hear her out.” Without waiting for her husband’s response, she reached across the table and squeezed my knee, smiling encouragingly as she did so. “Go ahead, dearest.” I glanced at Nikolas for permission, not wanting to offend him. He sighed and waved his fingers as if to say “go ahead.” I glanced at my lap and took a moment to articulate my thoughts. I couldn’t screw this up. I needed an ally that wasn’t afraid to stand up to Apollyon and Nikolas was my only option. I sucked in a deep breath, squared my shoulders, and then looked at the queen and king. “I’m sorry I don’t know the proper procedure…” “Just say what’s on your mind, sweet thing.” Her voice was gentle, but did little to reassure me as the walls closed in. I could swear everyone including Tancred scooted closer, as if we all didn’t have acute hearing anyway. My gaze spun, looking at each of them in turn, as a scratchy lump in my throat swelled. My eyes locked on one of the used shot glasses on the table. A single drop of blood had leaked down the edge and mingled with a bit of the absinthe. The two liquids didn’t quite mix and the effect gave the appearance of ribbons of crimson smoke tangling in a clear-green mist. The words spilled forth from my lips, sounding detached, as if I was not the one speaking. “I was attacked by a man whom I believe is a vampyre, but he is unlike any I’d seen before. I did openly jump over traffic and phase, but only because I was desperate to get away from him. I thought that if I phased he would lose track of me, but he was faster and stronger. He forced me to solidify.” I paused, wondering how much detail I should tell them. Would it sound 111
ridiculous if I told them about the rotting flesh or the way he transformed into a giant snake? What about the Crone and Lupa and Valafar? I decided I would wait and gauge their reaction to my story. “I managed to fight back and free myself from his grip, but not before he bit off my finger—” Jesu whimpered. It was a hushed sound carried on a sigh of breath strong enough to push a few strands of my hair gently across my collarbone like a curtain blowing in a gentle breeze before a storm. My bravery was quickly draining and I rushed to end things. “I made it back to the hotel. The man didn’t follow me after biting me.” Tancred scoffed. “That is the most unentertaining story I’ve ever heard. Everyone claims self-defense. You could have at least come up with something original.” “It’s the truth! You saw my hand.” “May we see it, sweetest?” Cecelia eyed the pockets where both my hands were safely hidden. Heat rose to my cheeks, but I obliged and slid my right hand out for everyone to see. “Oh how noble, but I do hope that’s not your dominant hand.” “It is,” I whispered, looking at my lap. Jesu snatched the last remaining shot of absinthe—the one I had discarded—and threw it back without the sugar, water, or blood. He grunted as he frowned at the empty glass in his hand. I wanted to smack him, to tell him to stop acting like an idiot and pay attention, but I couldn’t even bring myself to face him. “She could have lost her finger any ordinary way,” claimed Tancred. “What proof does she have?” “I know who attacked me,” I blurted out and then winced. “That is, I don’t know him personally, but I know his name and I know why he attacked me.” “Then out with it.” Nikolas sounded bored, but his golden eyes fixated on Jesu and I could tell the king was pondering something. “His name is Enki—” “We’ve no one registered with that name in this clan,” Tancred smiled, triumphant. “I never said he was Alpan.” I narrowed my gaze at Tancred and then faced King Nikolas with what I hoped was a softer expression. “He’s from the Middle East, the Samarian clan…um…” “The Ekimmuen clan.” Cecelia supplied the name for me. 112
I nodded. “Yes, thank you. He’s an Ekimmuen vampyre named Enki and he’s very ancient, possibly first generation. I recognized the caduceus symbol and the cuneiform script tattooed on his body.” “Now this is more interesting.” Tancred crossed his arms over his chest and widened his stance. “But still sadly flawed. That Enki has been dead for nearly ten thousand years.” “Maybe someone brought him back from the dead,” I snapped. “Ema,” Jesu pleaded. “Stop.” “No, please continue.” Tancred snickered. “I want to hear this lass’ theory on who raised the dead vampyre.” “King Apollyon did it. He’s alive too.” He laughed. “Who might have raised Apollyon, the Easter Bunny?” “Leena,” Jesu interjected before I could give myself away. “That is how she died.” Tancred opened his irritating mouth, but Nikolas silenced him with a wave of his palm. “If this is a joke—” “It’s not,” I promised. Nikolas glared at me and then at Jesu. “If this is true, then why is this the first time I am hearing about it?” Jesu stole an accusing glance in my direction. “Neo-Draugrian business. I am sure my brother never meant for things to get out of hand.” “Yes, well, this wouldn’t be the first time.” The king grunted. “Nikolas,” Cecelia scolded. “We don’t know the nature of all this.” She reached for his arm, but he jerked away and stood. My gaze traveled up, and up, and up. My breath hitched at Nikolas’ full size. He easily dwarfed everyone in the room. “Do either of you have proof of your claim? I warn you, I will triple your sentence if I find out this is all a falsehood.” I swallowed hard and then glanced at Jesu. He gazed to the side for a long moment and then said, “Yes…yes, I imagine we do. The whole Neo-Draugrian clan must know by now. Call any of the Arms, speak with them yourself. The Hands cannot answer you, they were forced to abandoned their position and resort to honoring old debts owed to my father, but speak with anyone else.”
Nikolas glowered at us. He stepped over his wife’s ample legs in one smooth stride and then continued walking to the back of the room. “Watch them,” he growled at Tancred. Once Nikolas reached the vending machine, he pulled a small cellphone from his pants pocket and dialed a number. I strained to listen as he pressed the phone to his ear. “Your Majesty,” Jesu murmured to the queen. “I had truly hoped not to involve you—” “Yet you fled to Berlin to hide behind my husband, did you not?” Jesu hesitated. “There, there,” she said gently. “No one expects a mere vampire to handle these mishappenings, even one of good breeding.” Meanwhile, Nikolas requested the voice on the phone—someone named Stefán—meet with him at his home as immediately as possible. He closed and pocketed his phone and then returned to the center of the room. All four of us glanced up expectantly. He sighed deeply and his brow pinched as he regarded me seriously for the first time that morning. “I spoke with Stefán á Drekann. Not only is Apollyon alive, but he launched an attack on their Council.” Jesu’s breath caught, as did mine. “Are they okay?” I asked. “Half of them are dead.” Cecelia gasped and her fair skin paled a shade. I expected a reaction from Jesu—shouting or something equally frantic—but he was silent as he chewed his lip. “I told Stefán you are with me,” Nikolas continued. “He has agreed to meet with us at my estate.” Jesu simply nodded at this. I wanted to shake him and my fists clenched at my sides, the odd empty gap on my right hand a rude reminder of all the reasons I had to be angry. My plan was working exactly as I had hoped, yet everything still spiraled out of control. When was it ever in my control to begin with? Not since Jalmari abducted me. Tancred approached me and yanked my arms forth. “What the hell are you—” “Leave those on her,” Nikolas demanded. I realized then that he referred to the metal bands on my wrists and I was sorry I had struggled against Tancred. He dropped my arms and then handed back our sunglasses. 114
“You two will come with my wife and me and stay at the castle until further notice. You are not to return to the R.E.D. hotel under any circumstances, understood?” “What about our stuff?” I asked, thinking of my father’s scroll and Jesu’s newspaper clipping. “I will send Rudo to retrieve your things,” Cecelia offered. Well, that would have to be good enough. I nodded my agreement to Nikolas—not that I had any choice in the matter. At least I wasn’t being exiled.
Stay tuned for the next installment in the Ema Marx series by J.D. Brown
DARK BECOMING An Ema Marx Novel 3 Eam Marx is in a race against time. Or rather, a race against Apollyon. A powerful weapon—the legendary philosopher stone—could tip the scale in favor of whoever gets their fangs on it first. For Ema, obtaining the stone is an uphill battle through love, alliance, heartbreak, and loyalty. Winning should mean the beginning of beautiful things, but the closer Ema gets to her destiny, the more uncertain her future becomes. Could it be this war was never meant for her? And why the heck doesn’t morning sickness adhere to rules of its own name? Look for it Winter 2014
About the Author J.D. Brown knows that vampires exist because she’s dating one and no, he doesn’t sparkle. Unfortunately, he’s not immortal either (or maybe her standards are too low). A magnet for subcultures and weirdness, J.D. was that socially awkward girl with more fictional friends than real ones. As a child battling a hearing loss and a medical condition with no name, J.D. found comfort in books where strong women always saved the day and got the guy. An obsession with Charmed, Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Buffy the Vampire Slayer lead J.D. to believe that her mutated chromosome made her something more, not something less. Thus her stubborn flare to persevere was born. A lover of fine cuisine, coffee, and shoes. She resides in Wisconsin were she writes urban fantasy—aka vampires for adults—and has political debates with her dogs. J.D.’s books are available in paperback and e-book formats from Muse It Up Publishing Inc. and all major book retailers. She loves to hear from readers. You can reach her via Facebook.com/authorjdbrown or visit her website at http://authorjdbrown.com