Ashley Hawn’s vampire existence has been anything but calm. Turned for the sole purpose of raising a long-dead warlock from the grave, Ashley has spent her new life fighting against those who would use her. Now the warlock is back, and Ashley finds herself connected to him in every way possible. She must work alongside her friends to stop him from enslaving the entire human population.
Meanwhile, the men in her life continue to show her romantic inclinations. As Ashley works to break the connection between her and the warlock, she ducks and dodges the attention of her male friends, doing her best to ward them off without ending the friendship.
Will Ashley kill Sedgrave, and will she have any friends left when it is all over?
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I have just finished reading your most recent work and am astounded! I loved your old books, but these new books are just asto…
Seriously? I thought as I pulled the lid of my laptop down in a vicious swing, nearly breaking the thin, sleek device. I had purchased the new laptop with my first royalty check from my book “Sucked In.” (Josh named it. Blame him.) The sudden transformation in my writing had resulted in a decent, steady income. I wasn’t on the New York Times Best Seller’s list, but I was able to live on the money, especially now that I didn’t have to pay rent. I hadn’t bothered finding a new place after my old apartment burned down. My little cupboard of a bedroom in the bowels of the seethe was sufficient.
“Something wrong?” asked a voice from the foot of my bed.
I looked up from the closed laptop and stared at Tereus, my cursed-fae cat. A little over a hundred years ago, Tereus had been stupid enough to seduce a woman with family connections. The woman’s brother had proceeded to curse Tereus, taking away his fae body and replacing it with the body of a Scottish-Fold cat. I would never tell Tereus this, but he was probably the cutest cat I had ever seen, his little ears tucked down, disappearing into his fluffy gray fur.
“Nothing,” I said a moment too late.
“Not buying it.”
“That’s nice,” I grumbled.
Tereus climbed to his feet and carefully made his way up my leg, over my computer, and up onto my chest so that he could sniff my nose, walking as though the mattress was lava. Despite his best efforts, Tereus occasionally did something just like a regular cat.
He went from sniffing my face to poking his wet, cold nose into my ear, occasionally flicking his rough tongue into the narrow hole. I tried to push him away, but he quickly returned.
“What’s wrong?” he asked repeatedly as he worked to annoy me to death.
“Nothing. Just leave it.”
“Nope,” said my cat as he tried to nuzzle his way into the neckline of my t-shirt.
I pushed him away again. He tumbled down to my lap, climbed back to his feet, and immediately returned to pestering me.
“Fine!” I snapped. “I’ll tell you. I just got an email from a fan.”
“Didn’t like the book?”
“No. They loved it,” I sighed.
Tereus stared at me in the way cats often do. “I don’t get it.”
I let out a gusty sigh. I needed to talk to someone, but didn’t have a lot of options ever since Chloe, my only girlfriend died. A wave of guilt washed over me. She had been dead nearly two months, and I had yet to avenge her. Instead, I hid in my room and wrote stupid vampire books. I had to deal with this, and fast if I wanted her murderers dead before my own demise.
I had an egg timer on my life.
Until I got my revenge, Tereus would have to do as a sounding board.
“You know the others think I’m connected to Sedgrave, right?” I asked.
Shortly after being turned into a vampire, I’d been sacrificed in a ritual used to raise an ancient warlock. Everyone had expected me to die, but I hadn’t. Instead, it appeared my continued existence was fueling his whole being-alive-centuries-after-his-birth thing. I was his battery, so to speak. It explained why all I ever wanted to do was sleep, and why when Nik had stabbed him, I had suddenly sprouted a puncture wound.
The real issue was he needed to die. He was too powerful to be left to his own devices. But, considering our current relationship, that would mean I would die too, or so we thought. I didn’t exactly relish that idea.
“Yes,” purred Tereus, happy that I was finally opening up.
“Eventually, Mikhail is going to get all the mystical community on the same page, and they’re going to kill him, meaning I’m gonna die. I guess fan-mail doesn’t excite me when I know I won’t even be able to finish writing the series.”
“We don’t know for sure if you’ll die when he does. After all, they all said you would die if they did the ritual, and that didn’t happen. Nothing with these old-timers is ever what they seem.”
“That’s hardly reassuring,” I said. I let us sit in silence for a long moment before speaking again. “The truth is I’m scared shitless. The last couple months of just waiting to see what will happen has been a torment. I try not to think about it, but I fail quite often. I know I’ve complained a lot since being turned, but in reality, I’ve grown kinda accustomed to this new life. Not really ready to die…for real.”
“No one is ever ready to die.”
“Says the immortal.”
“I’m not immortal. I just age very, very, very slowly. Besides, I wouldn’t call this living,” he added, flicking his cat tail in anger.
“Right,” I murmured, for lack of anything else to say.
“Have you talked with Nik or Josh about this?”
I shrugged. “Every time I try, they get all… mushy. It’s hard to have a serious talk with them about anything when all they wanted to do is cuddle and watch ‘Sleepless in Seattle’.”
Tereus gave the cat version of a nod. “It does seem you’ve amassed a rather large fan club here within the seethe.”
I rolled my eyes. “Even Mikhail is nice to me now.”
I shouldn’t be complaining about the primus of my seethe being nice to me. Especially if I compare it to the times he’d threatened to kill me for disobeying him. Mikhail didn’t act like Nik and Josh—always hitting on me—but rather like a very affectionate older brother who just might put me in a headlock and give me noogie if I annoyed him too much.
“Heaven forbid!” said Tereus in a voice that suggested he wasn’t too broken up about my sudden change in status; the change meant I spent more time hiding in my room with him. “As much as I like having you around, I wonder if you wouldn’t be better off mixing with the others a little more. Keep your mind off things.”
“The thing is, when I’m with them they’re always trying to reassure me, telling me how they’re gonna figure out a way to fix this.”
“What’s wrong with that?” asked my cat.
“It’s annoying. Besides, if I start believing them, it will just be that much more of a letdown when we fail. And we will fail. We’ve done nothing but fail,” I sighed, tears pressing against my eyes.
Tereus climbed back up my chest and stuck his nose in my ear.
“Stop that!” I snapped, suddenly distracted from my pity-party.
“What! Before I was a cat, women used to love it when I did that.”
“Ha! Sure they did.”
“When I get my body back, I’ll prove it to you.”
I laughed. I couldn’t help it. “Tell you what, we actually manage to get your fae body back, I’ll let you prove it.”
I have to admit, I said it having no real hope of living long enough to fulfill my promise to Tereus and search the wide world for a way to free him from the curse.
Tereus’ purr increased as he settled down on my chest. I petted him, trying to remind him that he was still a cat. I’m not sure how well it worked.
Before the conversation could continue, a gentle rap interrupted our quiet moment of introspection.
“Yes,” I grumbled.
The door creaked open and Josh poked his head in.
“Sorry to bug you,” he said, a bright smile lighting up his green eyes. “But Mikhail wants you in the main hall.”
I nudged Tereus off my chest and climbed to my feet. “What does he need me for?”
“I think he just got back from meeting with the fae and all them. Might have an update.”
I nodded and followed Josh out of my room and up toward the main hall. We lesser vampires resided on the third level of our bunker home. The top was for common rooms, Mikhail’s office, and a few suites for the upper echelon, like Nik. The level below that was for vampires who had been in the seethe longer than myself. On the rare occasion that one of those vamps kicked it, their room would be taken by the oldest vamp in the lowest level. It would be decades, maybe even centuries before I got out of my dumpy little closet of a room. It didn’t really bother me. Half my brain insisted I would be dead in a matter of days anyway.
“We haven’t seen you around lately,” Josh said as we walked up the first flight of stairs, breaking into my thoughts.
“Been busy,” I lied.
Though I had kept myself busy, it had been a matter of force. I had written several books in record time since our discovery about Sedgrave, mostly to keep my mind from wandering to the dark corners of my reality.
I glanced over at Josh. He looked as though he was having trouble not squirming as he walked. I knew he, like Nik, wanted to date me or court me or whatever really old men did. The thing was, I liked Josh. I think I even liked Nik. I just didn’t want to jump in the sack with them. Don’t get me wrong, they were both attractive in their separate ways. I guess I couldn’t really imagine myself with someone while my life was such a disaster. Or maybe the fact they appeared to be competing for my affection was ruining the effect.
As we reached the main level of the underground seethe, a transparent dog burst through a random wall, slid across the cement floor, and collided with my leg. Unlike the “usual ghost dog” (whatever that means), Josh’s little dog was corporeal at random. Sometimes he could walk through walls, other times the little beast would crash into them. The dog gave his little head a shake as it righted itself.
We arrived at the main room without Josh trying to ask me out again. He opened the door, like the gentleman he was, and stepped aside. I smiled at him, trying to balance nice but not encouraging in one quick look. He smiled back and I had a feeling I hadn’t quite found the balance.
The main room of the seethe reminded me of a modern day version of a great hall one would find in a castle. It served a similar purpose, though it looked nothing like its medieval counterpart. In truth, the room looked more like a furniture show room. It was made up of multiple sitting areas, matching living room sets clumped around gas fireplaces or large entertainment centers. In the two corners closest to the double doors sat a matching pair of pools tables that looked as though they belonged in a mansion’s billiard room. In the two opposite corners rested two grand pianos, while the windowless walls were enlivened with large paintings.
The normally lively room was mostly empty. Mikhail stood in one of the gaps between two living-rooms sets, brown liquor in hand. Mikhail looked all of seventeen years old, and a young seventeen at that. I doubt he had ever actually shaved his face when he was a human. When long, his hair curled gently, making him look even younger. With all the stress of the peace talks between us, the wolves, the fae, and the wizards, he hadn’t had time to cut it in a while.
A small group of men stood at a distance, huddled together and trying not to stare. Nik, the seethe’s second in command, stood behind the group, sipping his own drink. The group itself consisted of Jim, Mikhail’s executive assistant; Travis, the werewolf pack’s alpha; Samuel, the seethe’s third in command; and Helen, a wizard and a close friend. There were two other wizards supporting our efforts to end Sedgrave, but the master of the duo didn’t get along well with Helen—sibling rivalry and all that.
I went to Helen and gave her an awkward, sideways hug. She rubbed my shoulder affectionately and kept me tucked under her arm when I would have pulled away. Josh joined us, standing close to my side. As he approached me, Nik also wedged himself into the group, standing on Helen’s other side and glowering down at Josh.
I rolled my eyes and uselessly whispered, “What’s going on?”
Mikhail turned to me. I could see the wheels still turning in his head.
“Ashley, it’s good to see you,” he said with a little smile. “We’ve just returned from another meeting with the leaders, and I think it’s time to fill you on the developments.”
I nodded, not knowing what else to do, and Mikhail crossed to our little sitting area. Once he sat down, the rest followed, finding their own seat. Helen and I took a loveseat, leaving the men to fend for themselves.
“As you know, I’ve met numerous times with the fae queens, along with Travis and Helen. It seems that we are finally in a place of agreement that Sedgrave should be destroyed permanently, but not until we can disconnect you from him.” Mikhail grimaced at his wording. “You know what I mean. Tonight, Orythyia suggested that we find the artifacts used in the original ritual. The idea is that if we have them all together, Helen, Edith, and Lauren might be able to find a way to disconnect you.”
I nodded once. “Okay.”
“That’s it? ‘Okay’?” asked Nik after a long pause.
“What else should I say?” I asked, forcing the fear and anxiety down into the pit of my stomach; they couldn’t know how terrified I was.
“We have a really promising lead and all you say is ‘okay’?”
“A promising lead with a lot of ‘ifs’ and ‘buts.’ I don’t know if this is gonna work, and until I do, I have nothing more to say.” I let out a gusty sigh; if I was going to die soon, now was not the time to make enemies. “I appreciate all you guys are trying to do. I really do. I just can’t get my hopes up right now.”
There was more silence, only interrupted by a little yip from Josh’s dog.
“Are we going to Richard’s tonight?” Josh asked, turning to Mikhail.
I silently thanked Josh for moving the conversation along.
“Richard’s?” asked the primus.
“He’s the one who initiated the ritual. He knows which items he gathered up, which artifacts we need. The only one we know about is Veneno, the dagger we stole for Emma.”
“Wait, Emma would know,” I said suddenly.
“No I wouldn’t,” sighed Emma from the doorway of the large room.
We all turned and watched her saunter into the room. I pushed a smile to my lips, determined to be nice to her. Emma had been a major player in the kill-Ashley-to-raise-Sedgrave party. The only reason she was on our side now was because her seethe had rebelled against her. She had come to Mikhail for safety and, for some reason, he had accepted her. Emma was now a regular guest of the seethe, and I was doing my best not to hold our history against her. It wasn’t easy.
“Richard kept his cards close to his chest. In an effort to keep people from branching off and trying the ritual on their own, Richard was the only one who knew all the steps. The part I was charged with was getting the dagger. Other members were in charge of other items. We have to talk to Richard,” she said as she slid into a seat next to Nik.
Nikolai still hadn’t forgiven her for her involvement in my ritualistic sacrifice, despite her best efforts to win him back. They had been lovers ages ago, until the French Revolution split them up, or at least that’s how the story goes.
“Fine,” said Mikhail. “We’ll go to Richard’s tomorrow at sunset. I want plenty of time to win him over to our cause. Right now he’s not standing in the way of us killing Sedgrave, but I’d much rather he be completely onboard.”
“His willingness to abandon Sedgrave to our vendetta concerns me,” said Nik.
Emma shrugged. “Sedgrave didn’t give him what he wanted, so he no longer cares. By now, Richard is probably already onto his next scheme.”
“Hope it doesn’t involve me,” I grumbled more to myself.
The others chuckled, but even to my ears it sounded forced.
Before anything else could be said, my new cell phone buzzed in my pocket. I unlocked it and held it to my ear, feeling very modern.
“Hey Jordan,” I said, having seen his glowering image on my screen.
Jordan was my one human friend left in this world, and only in on my little vampire secret because he had stumbled upon Nik bandaging my horrendous wounds. Jordan had become one of Nik’s blood donors until Nik thoroughly pissed him off. Now Jordan belonged to me, though I hated thinking about him in those terms.
“Hey. Want to see a movie?” Jordan asked, skipping all the preamble.
My eyes skated around the room, seeing a variety of expressions. Some looked encouraging, as though they wanted me to finally get out. Others looked disgusted at the idea of me spending time with a human.
“Sounds great,” I said, suddenly resolving on living what little of my life I had remaining to me.
I stood up to make my way out of the room, phone still pressed to my ear when Nik stood up too.
“What are you doing?” he demanded.
“Going to the movies with Jordan,” I said, though it seemed pretty obvious to me.
“You’re kidding me, right?”
“No. Hey, Jordan, meet me outside the seethe in a few minutes,” I added into the phone before ending the call and returning the phone to my pocket. “Is this a problem?”
“Well… we just…” he motioned back toward the rest of the group.
“I’m sorry, Mikhail,” I said, turning to my primus. “Do you need anything else from me tonight?”
Mikhail smiled, his eyes flickering to Nik’s disgruntled face. “No, thank you, Ashley. You will, though, be joining us in our visit to Richard. No more of this sneaking about.”
I smiled in return. “Excellent. See you all later.”
“But it’s not safe,” sputtered Nik.
“Why’s that?” I asked, turning at the door of the main room. “Sedgrave knows I’m his battery. He’s not going to kill me. The other mystical factions are in peace talks. They’re not about to ruin it by killing one of Mikhail’s vamps, however new to the seethe I might be.”
“Nik,” I said, frustrated with his mother-hen ways. “I have decided that I am going to enjoy whatever life I have left to live, so if you will excuse me, I am going to go to a movie with my best friend while I still can.”
With that, I turned and barged out of the room.