Just one more time. Just one more sip.
Samantha will tell herself anything when the need for more power comes on her. She’s not an addict. Really. She’s fine.
The world isn’t, but Sam’s fine.
The humans’ hatred for the mystics reaches a peek when a few vampires massacre a Senate Committee meeting.
As the human population turns on the mystics, the clock ticks down as Sam fights to free those trapped inside the Illinois Reservation.
Sam’s fingers shook. She flexed them into a fist to hide the movement. Though she was alone in her opulent office, she would soon be heading back to the hotel where she had been spending the last week in conference with government officials. As if human agents weren’t enough, Rhett Deats was there giving her a hard time any chance he got. She wouldn’t let him see the tremble running through her fingers.
She took a deep breath, willing her fingers to hold still as she stretched them out. Within a second, they began quivering again. Sweat broke out on her brow as a painful shiver raced up her spine. Every nerve in her body wanted to feel something, anything, and yet at the same time, it felt as though every nerve was already on fire. Her mind couldn’t reconcile the two sensations, and so it seemed the desire to feel nothing overpowered her.
Sam flinched at the sound of her phone buzzing across the surface of her mahogany desk. Struggling to catch it with her fingers still shaking, she grabbed it just before it slid off the table.
“Yes?” Her voice didn’t sound right, even to her own ears.
“Your car is here,” the other voice said, sounding as though it was obvious.
Sam’s mind raced. Right. The committee meeting. She had just been thinking about it and yet it had already slipped her mind. “Yes, of course,” she said when she realized the other person was waiting for a reply. “Please send up a drink.”
“What kind of drink?”
“Anything,” Sam snapped before slamming her cellphone down onto her desk.
Though it wasn’t long before the elevator slid open, Sam had counted at least a million and a half rapid heartbeats. A waitress stepped out carrying a tray. Sam couldn’t remember the woman’s name. Her list of employees, along with her bills, had swelled in the two weeks since Halls’ death. Atop the woman’s tray sat three glasses with different liquids filling them.
Sam grabbed the nearest one and splashed the liquid into her mouth in one swift shot. The alcohol burned its way down her throat, making her eyes water but doing little for the other sensations flowing through her body. Her tattoo burned against her chest, feeling a thousand times more painful and making her all the more aware of her fae gift.
Just a little. If she could just taste a little her nerves would calm down. She needed to be calm. She needed to be collected for the upcoming meeting. After all, the entire mystical population was depending on her.
Before she had even made a choice one way or the other, her gift burst past her confines and sank its proverbial teeth into the waitress. One second the girl was staring at Sam in awe and the next she was on the floor. The tray followed her, and the glasses shattered against the floor.
Power filled Sam, replacing the sensations coursing through her. She froze for a moment, just enjoying the heat of power running through her veins again. She leaned over her desk, supporting herself with her arms and moaned. When the initial surge of pleasure ceased, she opened her eyes. They dropped to the ground where the waitress lay sprawled out in a display of glass shards and a spreading puddle of liquor.
“Shit,” she muttered, rushing around the corner of her desk. Sam pressed her fingers into the girl’s neck, certain she would find a flutter of life beneath the tepid skin. She waited, and nothing happened. Tense minutes passed. She moved her hand to the fae’s lips, hoping to find a whisper of breath coming from her nose. When that failed, she tried the neck again. Still nothing.
“Oh shit! Shit, shit, shit…”
The curses were barely out of her mouth before she was in motion. Sam glanced around her office, looking for a place to stash the body. In her haste, sparks jumped from her fingers to her hips. Distracted by the pleasure of having power, she hadn’t even noticed what power filled her. Electricity—one of the hardest to hide.
Sam took a deep breath before grabbing the woman’s limp body by the wrists and dragging it toward the large closet tucked into the corner of her ample office. For once, she was thankful Breena was off with Luke more than she was with Sam. She refused to consider how Breena would handle a dead body. Breena would judge her, but it wasn’t her fault. The girl should have known better—brought better alcohol or not surprised her or something.
She brushed her thoughts aside and focused on the task at hand. As she dragged the body across her office, a trail of mixed booze and glass streaked over her hardwood floor. Why couldn’t it have been superhuman strength, Sam wondered as her fancy heels bit into her feet. They weren’t the right shoes for hiding a body.
She reached the closet and dropped the girl’s arms. With the door open, Sam began the arduous task of folding up the girl’s body so as to fit it in the closet. By the time she had the waitress tucked under her array of long coats, fresh sweat dotted her brow. She grabbed an old throw blanket from the sofa and carefully covered the body before adjusting the coats hanging above it to look more natural.
Sam stepped back to admire her work. It wasn’t obvious at first glance that a body lay hidden under the blanket, and it would have to do until she could get rid of it. She took a deep breath and shut the door on her problems, more electricity crackling across her fingers.
With quick steps, she raced to her private bathroom and grabbed a soft towel to mop up the moisture and glass. As she worked, a small shard nicked her upper palm, drawing a few drops of blood.
Sam cursed under her breath as the residual liquor burned within the cut. As quickly as she could, Sam cleaned up the mess, dumping the towel and tray into the closet atop the cloaked body. Shutting the door again, she turned and leaned against it, letting out a long sigh. Her eyes flicked around the office, looking for any stray clues. Everything appeared normal.
Slipping into the coat of her dress suit, she grabbed the cell phone off her desk and her purse off its hook before jabbing the button for the private elevator that connected her office to the main floor.
She stepped in, jabbed the first-floor button, and slung her sleek purse over her shoulder. As the elevator door closed she adjusted the cuffs of her silk shirt, covering the small cut on her palm. The doors opened, and she marched across the brothel’s upper floor.
Workers and revelers alike made space for her, and Sam felt her spine straighten as she took in their deference. Had she asked the Samantha of the Reservation if she cared what people thought about her, the younger Sam would have laughed in her face, but now she enjoyed their quick steps and averted eyes.
Lightning crackled between her fingers. She squeezed her hand into a closed fist, willing the magic down into her core. It couldn’t show. If they suspected her…
Sam took a deep breath and kept marching, her heels clicking off beat with the music that accompanied the women dancing on the main stage. At the front doors, two workers raced forward to fling the doors open to the small foyer. The exterior doors were already set open, where bouncers held back those waiting to get a chance at the Lion’s Club.
Some recognized her and began shouting her name, as though that might get them early admission. She ignored them, keeping her features stony. Her car waited at the curb, her driver already opening the back door for her. Sam had just stepped off the sidewalk when a dark figure stepped out of the shadows, coming from the opposite side of the brothel.
Sam’s power rose up to drain the man approaching. She had barely taken a sip of his power—mixing it with the electricity already filling her—when she recognized the so-called scent of the other mystic’s power.
“Carter,” she grumbled as she turned. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“Pleasure?” the werewolf asked.
She gave a slight shrug. “Whatever you would like to call it.”
“Deats sent me.”
“So I assumed.” Sam rolled her eyes. “Now what is it about?”
“Deats wants to meet with you…”
“Unofficially, I assume.”
“Tell him I’ll meet him at the statue. You know the one… with the horse.”
Carter nodded again before fading back into the shadows while Sam slipped into the back seat of her sedan. The door swung shut and a moment later her driver climbed into his own seat. They drove off, heading toward the ritzy hotel where the various figureheads spoke on the never-ending issue of mystics—both inside the various Reservations and living in hiding within the United States’ larger cities. Of course, those living in the cities were becoming less and less of a secret and more of an unspoken fact.
Before Sam even realized the car had taken off, it came to a stop beside the large statue set in the half-circle garden across the street from the hotel’s main entrance. Sam didn’t wait for her driver but got out herself. To her surprise, Deats already stood in the shadow of the stone base to the statue.
“Carter get to you already?” she asked as she approached.
He shook his head as he turned to look at her, his hands slipping into the pockets of his sleek trousers. Deats was perhaps the oldest vampire she had ever met. No matter how many people she asked, she could not get a clear idea of when had been born. She wondered if he even knew.
“I came on a hunch.” It annoyed Sam how often his hunches proved correct—the result of being a few centuries old, she suspected. He took her hand and kissed it lightly as though he were a knight greeting a great lady.
“In that case, what is it you want?”
Deats began to pace, his eyes on his leather shoes as he marched along the base of the statue. “You have a knack for shoving the truth down the senators’ throats, with little regard for how well they can take it.”
“Meaning, young Samantha, that sometimes you need to use a more indirect approach.”
“Thank you for the advice. I make no promises to listen, but thank you all the same.”
“I thought as much, which is why I think we should align ourselves.”
A brief laugh escaped her lips before she could swallow it. “Team up?”
“Yes. I think we might gain more ground with them if we work together. You can continue to shove facts at them—essentially playing the bad cop—and I can come in after you and offer it to them with a touch more… diplomacy.”
Sam frowned. “If you’re so good at ‘diplomacy’ what do you need me for?”
“My diplomacy is even more effective after you have been particularly rude to them—especially if you and I have coordinated our attacks.”
Sam rolled her eyes. She wasn’t rude.
“Besides,” he continued. “We do want the same thing.”
“Don’t play coy with me, Samantha. You want the mystics freed, same as me.”
“But, Rhett, if the mystics were free how would you profit on their privation?”
He smiled, his high cheekbones plumping with the expression. “Like you don’t profit from their privation.”
A rod straightened her spine as she glared at him. “Of course I do not!”
His smile never wavered. “You mean all your employees live in a large condo near the lake?”
“No, ‘course not. But they are doing a helluva lot better than when Halls controlled them.”
Deats grinned at her, somehow managing the expression without showing his vampire fangs. Sam wondered if that was a learned habit developed over the centuries. “Anything is better than the way Halls treated them. It’s hardly an impressive feat.”
“Oh, and your people are so much better off than mine?”
“You know nothing about my people, Samantha.” He leaned toward her. “But whether you like it or not, the fact is you profit from selling sex. You can’t paint it any other way. Either admit it and be the villain, or change and be the hero.”
Sam’s jaw dropped, his words sitting heavy in her mind.
“Now, back to issue at hand,” continued Deats. “We both want the same thing—our brothers and sisters in the Reservation to be free.”
“I thought you wanted them to be more rulers than just free, to control the humans.”
Deats gave a nearly-imperceptible shrug. “What happens after their release is neither here nor there. At least until the reservations are dissolved, our goals are the same. So, will you be my ally or not?”
Sam ground her teeth together. “I’ll consider it.”
An hour later, Sam sat in the spacious conference room of the Congress Hotel. She hid her hands under the pristine white tablecloth, allowing the electricity to jump from one finger to the next. She had tried to hold still, to conserve the magic within her, but it longed to be used. She couldn’t seem to simply keep it in her tank.
As the various senators and aides droned on, she began to imagine all the fantastical things she could do with her stolen electrical power, and when that ran out, she moved on to consider what she could do with other powers.
“Miss Gollet?” a voice called, breaking into her distraction.
Sam started, finally focusing on Senator Young of Florida—one of the few states to also have a reservation within its borders. The room fell silent as Sam tried to remember what he had asked.
“Have you ever been locked up in isolation?” repeated the senator.
Sam nodded, her gift pressing against her tattoo as she remembered the weeks spent in a plastic box. She battled her power back to keep it from taking control.
“Ever been an outcast before?” She looked up at the men and women sitting around the conference room. “The fat kid at school? The one with acne? The one who shops at the second-hand store?”
A few people nodded, some even raising their hands in half-hearted agreement.
“But then all those weirdos band together because there’s power in numbers.”
The senators nodded again.
“Now imagine being the outcast of the outcasts. Even the freaks won’t accept you. When you go into solitary, everyone else shuns you unless you can provide them a service, even after you’ve returned. And while you’re inside, your only company is that voice that tells you you’re worthless, that tells you they should shun you. Before you know it, you start to believe that voice. So when you get out, you’ve convinced yourself even your freak friends don’t want you. Then you isolate yourself, cause you feel worthless and no one could ever love you.”
The large gathering of officials stared at her in complete silence. Sam didn’t know what else to say, suddenly feeling as though she was ten years old again and confronted by her step-father—his silence had always been a precursor to a beating.
She was just about to speak again when the lights went out, plunging them into total darkness. The men and women from the government jumped to their feet, each shouting to their own aides to go catch someone or turn on their phone’s flashlight. Within seconds, small orbs of light appeared around the room, quickly being overwhelmed by the darkness as though it was stain spreading across white fabric.
“I can still hear the electricity,” Deats whispered into her ear.
“It’s not a power outage. I can still hear the electricity in the bulbs.”
Sam jumped to her feet. “It’s an attack. Everyone down!”
“An attack?” she heard one senator ask from beside her. The words were barely out of the official’s mouth when the room filled with the most horrendous noise. Sam’s hands went to her ears on their own accord, trying to block out the rough sound. It reminded her of gravel scraping against gravel under a tire, only far worse.
Sam released the lightning from her inner tank. For a split second, the room lit up. It didn’t take more than a second for Sam to see that Deats had been right. People—looking in no way official—stood on the large, U-shaped table. Though she might have imagined it, there seemed to be a glint of evil in their eyes.
“Get the power back on,” three voices all called at once. Sam recognized one of them as Deats.
She released her gift in part, but it powered through her defenses and covered the conference room like a thin cloud. Magic filled her, causing her to stumble backward, knocking her own chair to the ground.
Sam tried to sort through all the sensations rushing through her body, but the more she tried to pinpoint one or the other, the more they seemed to flit about within her. The lightning power receded as the others took its place. She felt a werewolf, a few vampires—each with a different flavor—and a number of faeries like herself. Suddenly her stomach was filled as though she’d eaten a holiday feast and yet at the same time her heart ached as though she had just lost the dearest love of her life. Another sensation weighed her down, but she couldn’t comprehend it.
She groped in the darkness, looking for something to stabilize her. Her left hand was suddenly filled with the fingers of another. Cold skin hinted at who it was. Another cold hand slipped around her waist and supported her.
“Get with it, woman,” Deats snapped. “And get the power back on!”
“What?” gasped Sam. “How?”
“It’s magic. The darkness is magic. Make it stop!”
Sam gripped the vampire’s strong arms, letting him support her as she sorted through the different sensations she was feeling. She focused in on the sadness. Doing her best to ignore the emotions it created, she latched onto the power, tasting it. With the taste fresh in her mind, she pushed her power outward. Now brimming with power, it was less inclined to seek more, but if she had learned one thing from her new-found father, it was that her inner tank could hold much more than she thought.
Her power snaked out into the room, no longer vibrant enough to cover the whole room at once. Her gift searched the room, during which time the room’s occupants continued to scream. Sam heard a few shots fired from the private security hired by the hotel, though it was less than she had expected. They seemed to understand the danger of firing into total darkness while surrounded by senators.
Finally, she came across the melancholy power. Sam gave it a jerk, yanking the magic away from its owner and dragging it toward herself. The magic resisted her. All magic, all power wanted to stay with its owner. A Void’s ability to steal magic was not natural, and magic knew that. But this was different. The magic fought her abilities, clinging to its owner like a shroud.
But Sam was an expert. She weaved her own power into the darkness, like thread sewn into fabric, and when the two were more one than separate, she gave another yank. The magic began to move, slowly being dragged into her tank. The physical darkness receded from the room like the red tide of Communism spreading across a map of Europe. As the darkness moved, the outskirts of the room were fully lit while the center was fully dark. Sam watched, amazed despite all the times she had seen the various effects of magic.
As it filled her, her shoulders drooped as though Deats had asked her to give him a piggyback ride. Normally, Sam liked the feel of magic within her, but this stuff was dark—all pun intended.