Eons ago, vampires tried to turn the Dark Fae in order to harness their magic, only to create a demonic enemy more powerful than they imagined. Now Myst, the Vampiric Fae Queen of the Indigo Court, has enough power to begin a long prophesied supernatural war. And Cicely Waters, a witch who can control the wind, may be the only one who can stop her-and save her beloved Fae prince from the Queen's enslavement.
The women in my family have always been witches, which is why when Ulean, my Wind Elemental, tossed my hair early on a balmy, breezy December morning and whispered in my ear to listen to the wind, there was a message for me riding the currents—I did. Pausing to close my eyes and lower myself into the slipstream, I heard a faint, feminine voice calling my name. When it told me that my aunt Heather and cousin Rhiannon were in trouble, I didn’t wait for a second warning. I called them to tell them I was on my way and got my second surprise of the day.
“Marta’s dead.” Heather’s voice was strained.
I stared at the phone. Marta, dead? The woman had been ancient the last time I was home, but we all expected her to outlive the entire town. That she was dead seemed incomprehensible. “She’s dead? What happened?”READ MORE
“I don’t know, Cicely. We found her in her garden. She was drained of blood and her throat had been…ripped apart. And I do mean ripped.”
The obvious answer was a rogue vampire, except for one thing: the “ripped” part. Most vampires were fairly tidy with their work. The Northwest Regent for the Vampire Nation lived in New Forest and kept order in the area. Geoffrey was a good sort—if you can call a vampire a good sort—and it was hard for me to believe that any one of the vamps under his control would be so stupid as to kill Marta. She had charms aplenty forwarding them off and the repercussions would be harsh, even for the vamps.
“You think one of Geoffrey’s people killed her? What do the police say?”
My aunt paused. “I’m not sure of anything, to be honest. There are some strange things going on and the town is…changing. The cops didn’t seem too interested in investigating Marta’s death.”
A chill ran up my spine.
Strange is not the word for it, Ulean whispered. There are so many traps in New Forest now. The entire town is in danger.
“Are you sure you’re okay? A voice on the wind told me that you and Rhiannon are in danger. I was about to pack.”
A pause. Then, “Please come home. I’d love to have you come home for good. It’s time, Cicely. Krystal’s gone, and we need you. Right now, I’m not sure what that danger is, but yes, it’s lurking on the edges and in truth, it has me afraid.”
My aunt never admitted fear. That she would do so now sealed my decision to return to New Forest.
Heather paused, then added, “I think at this point, everyone’s fair game, but the magic-born seem to be getting hit the hardest. I’ll explain when you get here. And there’s another reason you should return.”
“What?” Family duty I had no problem with, unlike my mother. But Heather’s voice sounded odd and a tingling at the back of my neck told me that something else was in play.
“Marta passed the torch to you. She left you her practice. The town can’t do without her, and apparently she’s chosen you to take her place. You’ll have to move the business over here to Veil House. It will take a little while for you to get everything set up again, but she left you all her supplies.”
Stunned, I blinked. Marta was the town witch. People went to her for help. She was also the elder of the secret Thirteen Moons Society—the coterie my aunt belonged to. No one but family members knew about the Society and it was kept that way on purpose. Hell, even I didn’t know what they did—only when you were inducted into the Society were you told what went on.
“Marta left me her business? Are you sure of that?” I had been home once a year from the time I was thirteen until I turned seventeen, and that had been the last time I’d set foot in New Forest. And my mother had been persona non grata with the elder witch. “Why would Marta do that?”
Heather laughed. “Oh, Cicely, you may be twenty-six now and on your own, but you’re still one of us. You’ve always been one of us, even though your mother tried to distance the both of you. It’s time to come home to New Forest.” Her voice turned serious. “Krystal’s dead. You don’t have to run anymore. Come back. We need you. I need you. And you…you need us.”
She was right. In my heart, I knew it was time to go home. I’d been running for years, but now there was no more reason. There hadn’t been a reason for me to stay on the road for two years, since Krystal had died. Except that sometimes running felt like all I knew how to do. But now…Marta had left me her business. I had something to go home to—something to focus my life on, other than keeping my mother and me alive.
“Be there in three days tops,” I told Heather. “Can I have my mother’s old room?” Memories of the violet-and-ivory trimmed room loomed in my mind.
“Of course you can, and you can use the back parlor for your business and one of the spare rooms on the third floor for your supplies and workroom.” Heather laughed again. “Oh Cicely, I’ve missed you so much. I’m so glad you’re coming home again for more than a visit. We’ve missed you.”
And with that, I tossed the few boxes containing my possessions and my backpack in Favonis—my 1966 navy blue Pontiac GTO that I’d won in a game of street craps—and headed out of California without a single look over my shoulder.
LA was like every other city I’d lived in since I was six: a pit stop in the rambling journey that had been my life. But now, after twenty years, my past was about to become my future. As I pressed my foot against the accelerator, Favonis sped along the I-5 corridor.
I was wearing a pair of black jeans, a black tank top, and my best boots—a kickass pair of Icon’s Bombshell motorcycle boots. I had no job to give notice to—I’d picked up odd jobs here and there since I was twelve but never anything permanent. All through the years, I knew there was something I was supposed to do—supposed to accomplish—but I’d never known what. Maybe this was it. Maybe taking Marta’s place would fill the void.
“Come on, baby,” I coaxed. “Don’t let me down.”
And Favonis didn’t. She purred like a kitten, all the way up the coast.
Speeding along the freeway, fueled by numerous stops at Starbucks and espresso stands along the way, I kept my eyes peeled for the exit that would take me to I-90. New Forest was snuggled against the northwestern foothills of the Washington Cascades, and the promise of going home for real this time dangled in front of me like a vial of crack in front of a junkie.
Twenty years ago, I’d kicked and screamed my way down the front steps of Veil House, begging Krystal to leave me with Heather, but my mother had just dragged me to the taxi, bitching at me to shut up. Now, after a thousand miles on the road, and a thousand years in my heart, I was heading back to live in the only house I’d ever thought of as home. And this time I planned on staying.
Only now, I’m twenty-six and my mother’s dead. Something is terribly wrong in New Forest. And my wolf has woken up again.
Twenty miles out from town, I began to see spots of snow, and by the time I passed the Welcome to New Forest sign, snow blanketed the ground. Not wanting to bother my aunt till morning, I eased into the parking lot of the Starlight 5 Motel. I stared at the flickering light that illuminated the Vacancy sign. I was in New Forest. I was really back.
Grabbing my backpack, I hauled ass out of the car and stood there shivering as I listened to the air currents washing around me. Something was off—I could feel it. New Forest didn’t feel like I remembered it. A glance across the street showed me an all-night diner. The windows of Anadey’s joint glimmered with Christmas lights. I vaguely remembered Anadey from my visits. She was Marta’s daughter, if I remembered correctly. I wondered what she was doing running a diner, but decided to check in first and then snag a bite to eat.
The motel clerk stared at me, unblinking. “You want a room?”
I nodded. “Single. One night.” As I pulled out my wallet, he shoved the register across to me and I scribbled my name down and tossed fifty bucks on the counter in tens. He counted the bills, then nodded and held out a key.
“Room 105-A. Checkout by noon.”
“I’ll be gone earlier than that. You have anything on the second floor?” I’d long ago learned it was safer to be higher up.
He looked me over again and then handed me a different key. “Room 210-B. Nonsmoking and no hot plates.”
“No problem on either front.”
I took the key and headed outside again. The motel was built in a U shape and wrapped around the parking lot. I surveyed the upper story until I found my room and jogged up the stairs. As I unlocked the door, force of habit made me check the surrounding area, looking for anybody or anything suspicious. Krystal had raised me to be on guard, even though she had lost her own savvy over the years, thanks to the crack and the heroin.
No one in sight. I opened the door.
Cautiously, I scoped out the room. Queen-sized bed, a little lumpy. Headboard bolted to the wall. Utilitarian dresser and mirror with the TV atop it. Usable, clean bathroom with thin white towels. Typical cheapie motel. I dropped on the bed but was too pent up from the drive to sleep. My stomach rumbled and I realized I was hungry, so I gathered up my pack—no way would I leave anything in this joint while I was gone—and headed out to the sidewalk in front of the motel. I waited for the light to change and crossed the street to Anadey’s Diner.
The café had that truck-stop vibe, though there weren’t any places for semis to park. As I pushed through the doors, the dim light from the overheads filtered through the long, narrow restaurant. Utilitarian blinds gave a slatted view to the parking lot, and Formica ruled supreme. Booths lined one wall, while on the other, a long counter flanked the kitchen, with bar stools attached to the floor.
A tall, narrow Christmas tree was nestled in one corner, sparkling with lights and gleaming ornaments. The tree was pretty and it made me smile.
Several late-nighters were scattered through the café. Two of the men sitting at the counter looked odd—they weren’t magic-born, that was obvious, but they weren’t human either. I could read the difference just by looking at them. Both swarthy, with shaggy black hair and topaz eyes ringed with black circles, they watched as I passed by them, giving them a wide berth.
I chose an open stool at the opposite end of the counter and slid onto it. Picking up the menu, I pulled one of the saucers to me and flipped over the mug.
The waitress saw me and headed my way, coffeepot in hand. I recognized her.
“Hi, honey. I’m Anadey. What will you have? My daughter’s the best short-order cook in town.” She nodded toward the kitchen, where a tall, solid young woman flipped burgers behind the grill. A sparkle of magic flickered in the girl’s aura, and also surrounded Anadey, only stronger. I gave her a slow smile. She didn’t seem to recognize me, so I decided to wait until I was settled in before coming back and introducing myself. For all I knew, she could be angry that her mother had chosen to give me the family business.
“Your daughter’s lovely.”
“That she is, my dear. You want coffee?” Anadey hovered over the mug.
“Yes, and cream, please.”
The coffee steamed hot and black as she poured it into my cup. Anadey hesitated for a moment, then said, “Her name is Peyton. Come back in sometime when you’re not so tired. I think you’d hit it off. I’ll get your cream now. You want another minute with that menu?”
She bustled off, returning with the cream as I added three packets of sugar to my coffee. I gave her a soft smile—she looked somewhere in her early fifties and exhausted—and flipped open the menu. The words all seemed to run together and I closed it again, turning to gaze at the posters on the wall. Fatigue from the trip was setting in, big-time.
I motioned to Anadey. “Make my order to go, would you? A large chocolate shake. Cheeseburger and fries. Butter only on the bun. Hold the pickles and condiments. And a piece of apple pie if you have some. Oh—and make sure nothing has any sort of fish added into it, please. I’m allergic to fish and shellfish.” I reached into my pocket and produced my EpiPen for emphasis. Some diners didn’t take food issues seriously unless you hit them hard with the I can die speech.
“I have several friends with various allergies, so I keep a strict watch on my kitchen. We have a dedicated fryer for French fries to avoid cross contamination. And one section of the grill is reserved for unbreaded patties only and cleaned every time.” She gave me a wink. “You look like you’re about ready to crash, honey.”
I nodded. “Long trip to get here. Been driving for two days with very little rest along the way.”
“I’ll get your order going so you can get some shut-eye. You look about done in.” She hurried off and I sipped at my coffee. As I sat there, I became aware that the guy at the other end of the counter had gotten up and was strolling my way, his eyes glued to me. He didn’t look impressed.
I gave him the once-over as he passed by, on his way toward the restrooms. As he crossed behind me, I heard him whisper, “Magic bitch, watch yourself. New Forest doesn’t like your kind anymore.”
Taken aback, I swiveled full around, but he just went on walking. Normally I’d get in his face—I’d been in enough street fights to hold my own—but I was too tired to deal with a confrontation. Instead, I just memorized his looks and turned back to Anadey, who was polishing the counter in front of me, a concerned expression on her face.
“Regular?” I asked, nodding at his back.
She gave me a short nod, her lips pressed together, and I could see the flash of fear in her eyes. “Don’t cross him, child. He’s a mean one and a drunk. Just let it go. Your food should be ready in a few minutes.” She glanced at the other end of the counter where his buddy was sitting. She didn’t say a word, but the look in her eyes told me all I wanted to know.
Bad news…don’t trust them…they are not mortal. Ulean’s voice tickled my ears and I let out a low Umm-hmm.
As Anadey packaged my food and handed it to me, Snarly Dude came back from the bathroom, his full lips curling in a derisive, leering manner. I returned his gaze, keeping my expression neutral. Tossing a ten and a couple bucks for a tip on the counter, I headed toward the door, my senses on high alert.
Watch my back.
As always, Cicely…as always, came Ulean’s calming thoughts.
Once I was in the parking lot, a shift in the current alerted me. I paused, listening.
They’re following you…
I know, I whispered. I can feel them.
Not just them. Another. Older, more dangerous. I don’t recognize the energy, though.
I slowly exhaled, relaxing into my body. Tension could ruin a good punch, could turn a good fight into a bad one. I gave the parking lot a look-see. Five cars to my left. Another three to my right. Gauging how long it would take me to dash across the street, across the snow and ice, I headed for the sidewalk. The street was mostly empty; there were few cars on the road at this time of night, although two long, dark limos with tinted windows passed by, gliding silently, the sound of their engines muffled by the falling snow.
Vampires hunting. Ulean’s thoughts were filled with distaste.
I gave an imperceptible nod and set a foot into the road. Immediately, I sensed the men behind me speed up. I was two yards across the street before I broke into a run. The sound of footsteps told me they had done the same.
Crap. I still didn’t know who they were or what they wanted, but it was obvious they didn’t like me and I wasn’t going to stick around to find out why.
I made a break for it, Ulean whipping along behind me, pushing me forward. With a shout, my followers picked up the pace as their boots drummed a tattoo of running steps. On the other side of the road, I assessed my best option.
No way in hell could I go up to my room—they could easily break through the flimsy lock. Favonis was my best bet. I’d rigged her with an automatic key and kept my keychain hooked on my belt loop just for situations like this. I’d spent my life ditching danger of one sort or another with my mother and had learned a thing or two along the way.
I tossed the bag of food to the side and fumbled for my key, but even as I hit the shadows surrounding my car, a noise cut through the night behind me—a sharp scream, choked off before it barely began. I whirled, only to see Snarly Dude turning tail to race back across the street into the light. He slipped once on a spot of black ice, righted himself, then disappeared into a truck and squealed out of the parking lot.
As I tried to figure out what the hell had happened, another sound echoed in the parking lot—a sickly gurgle—and the scent of blood washed over me. As I backed toward my car, another shift in energy cut through the night and the hidden force vanished.
Gone…and so is the man who cried out.
Crap. Gone? Where the fuck could he have gone? He’d been right behind me. I slowly edged my way toward the shadow that had engulfed him. The scent of blood hung thick but when I shone my pen flashlight on the ground, I could see only a few drops scattered red against the snow. I looked right and left—there was no place he could have disappeared to, but the man had definitely pulled a disappearing act. Not voluntarily, though.
I scanned the other side of the street. Nothing.
What the fuck is going on, Ulean?
I don’t know, Cicely, but that’s what we’re here to find out.
What was the thing that took him? Vampire?
A pause, then, No…not vampire. Do not be so quick to blame the Vein Lords. This…is much darker than vampire signature. Dangerous, feral…hungry in a way the vampires cannot even begin to match.
Cripes. Vamps were at the top of the food chain—predators, often without mercy. If this was worse than they were…I didn’t want to know what it was.
Without another word, I sucked in a deep breath, retrieved my dinner, and headed up the stairs toward my room. New Forest had changed, all right, and I had the feeling I was just skirting the tip of the iceberg.COLLAPSE