Crimson Flames excerpt
Half-vampire Abby Tate is determined to learn more about the sorceress powers that were awakened inside her when she was turned into a vampire—making her a whole new hybrid species. There’s a group of rogue vamps banding together and forming a Resistance against the vampire governing body, The Head Council, and Abby’s newly discovered powers are the key to the Council’s victory. Now the Resistance will do anything possible to remove the hybrid threat, and with no other options, Abby is forced to rely on the aid of the Council, yet can she trust the very vampires that hunt for her human lover? And even worse, can she fight the unwelcome attraction that’s growing between her and one of those ancient vampire rulers?
Chapter One Sneak Peek
MY STOMACH CLENCHED as I sensed the vampire’s approach. He was close. So close I could feel the thrum of his power vibrating along my skin. The hairs on the back of my neck rose, and I knew if I was going to use my power for defense, then I needed to bring it forth now. I closed my eyes, forcing myself to breathe as deeply as I could—which thankfully had gotten easier with practice. I focused on the energy inside me, willing it to the surface, and as I felt it swelling, building like an approaching storm, I threw out my hand, gripped Stone’s shirtsleeve, and urged him to the floor. “Get down! He’s here!”
Stone raked me with a look that told me he was not too pleased, but then fear swept over his face when he realized just how little time we had.
The wooden door to the pub suddenly burst open—bits of wood and dust raining down from the force. Even though Stone should’ve cowered behind me—since his gift of reading blood wasn’t something he could fight with—somehow he’d found some bravery and boldly stood by my side. Though I appreciated it, I didn’t like it, and desperately wished he had listened to me. But I couldn’t think about that and call forth the fire within me at the same time. So I pushed Stone to the back of my mind with the silent promise of dealing with him later. Then I returned my attention to the power building inside me. One last deep breath and my heart shuddered to life inside my chest, making a rhythmic pattern with my faux breathing. A tingling warmth spread from head to toe, then settled on my awaiting hands. Seconds later, there was a glowing orb of fire (about the size of a basketball) cupped inside my palms. And just as the vampire appeared through the settling fog, I called out, “Not another step, Tristan, or it will be your last!”
“I think you should reconsider your threat,” Tristan shot back. “We are on the same side.”
That I sincerely doubted, but I knew killing a member of the Head Council would definitely put me on the “Most Wanted” list. Which I might already be on, since I’d helped the human this vampire was here to claim escape.
“She’s not bluffing!” Stone said through a snarl. I wanted to glare him into silence, but I refused to take my eyes off of the vampire standing in the broken doorway, wearing a black Armani-looking suit—now lightly covered with dust. It was a custom for all members of the Head Council to wear black suits, but each of them would wear shoes and an undershirt of their own choosing. I guess it was a way to express their individual personalities. Yet this one seemed to express himself through his spiked, platinum blond hair, not the basic black undershirt and matching boots—which were much more boring compared to what I’d seen a few of the other Council members wearing. But this vampire was far from boring. He was a tracker for the Council—one of the best hunters on earth. And he was after my human boyfriend.
“You know why I’m here, Abigail,” Tristan bit out. “The human was here.”
I felt my gaze narrow as I carefully took a step forward, the ball of flames growing hotter in my hands. “Yes, he was. It’s my fault he wasn’t captured.”
“That’s not exactly true,” said Stone as he moved up beside me.
I stole a few deep breaths, fighting the urge to throw my fireball at him instead of the blond vampire in the suit.
“Please explain!” Tristan ordered with impatience. But as Stone attempted a reply, he was cut off. “Not you! I want to hear this directly from Abigail!”
“Abby,” I corrected, feeling sweat forming above my brows and pooling between my breasts.
The blond vampire smirked, folding his arms in front of his chest.
“I did not restrain him because I do not believe he will be kept safe once in your hands,” I went on. “And until I can prove his innocence in all of this, I feel it’s best that he stay far away from you.”
A tinge of red formed a ring around Tristan’s irises as he scowled. “That is not your decision. He must pay for his involvement with those rogue vampires, including Bronx. He cannot get away with helping them try to destroy our stronghold.”
“I made an agreement with the other Council members,” I reminded him. “Doesn’t that count for something? Your word is nothing if your actions do not back up what you say.” My voice was getting louder, my patience thinning. And the angrier I got, the more difficult it became to control the fire in my hands.
“Yes. We have a deal,” Tristan assured. “We will not kill him or harm him—just as we told you—but that does not mean he won’t be punished some other way.”
“I don’t believe you,” I snapped.
Stone put his hand on my shoulder. “Abby, maybe you should—”
In a flash of movement, the vampire closed the distance between us and held Stone in a headlock from behind with his fangs hovering over my friend’s neck. And since it wasn’t to drink Stone’s blood, since Stone was also a vampire, then that meant it was a threat to rip out my friend’s jugular. From there it would be too easy to finish Stone by ripping off his head. And that’s when my patience snapped. There were only two ways to kill a vampire—burning to death or decapitation—and he was about to find out firsthand just how very dangerous I was. Sure, he could threaten to kill my friend, but he’d be burned alive before Stone’s head hit the ground. I placed all my focus on the orb of heat in my hand, willing it to retract to half its size while intensifying, growing hotter, then I thrust it at Tristan’s face. In a blur of motion, he ducked, throwing Stone to the floor as the fireball grazed over his head, singeing the soft tips of his hair. A snarl erupted from his throat as his fiery gaze locked onto mine. There was a brief hesitation, burnt hair and musk filling my senses, then something similar to curiosity flashed over his eyes and he was airborne, plunging straight for me. My body shuddered as heat blasted out of every pore, radiating from me like invisible steam. Throwing his arms over his face, the vampire faltered midair and fell sideways, then jumped back once he landed and retreated by the door from which he’d entered. Satisfied I’d made my point, I pulled all the heat back inside me, then rushed over to Stone and helped him up. “You okay?” I asked.
He nodded by way of an answer, then ran his hand through his coffee-colored hair—which was completely messed up now.
My eyes narrowing, I fixed my gaze on Tristan across the bar by the door. “Do that again and I’ll kill you,” I warned.
Tristan brushed some of the dust off of his pants. “Abigail, I’d rather not have to repeat that again. Hopefully I’ve made my point by now,” he said, his mouth curling into an amused grin that nearly reached his eyes. The hints of crimson were gone—for now anyway. “I would not have harmed your friend, as I’m sure Mr. Rayver here is already aware.” He glanced at my disheveled friend, a smirk still pulling at his lips; then his gaze slid back to me. “Your powers make you far greater than just any other Enforcer. You are an equal with us. We should work side by side, you making the sixth, and final member, of the Council. But you must not argue with our protocol. If rules are broken, there are, and will always be, consequences. There are no exceptions to this. Ever. The rules of our kind are ageless. It’s been that way for centuries and shall remain that way indefinitely.”
Well that was news to me. I knew the Head Council wanted my services, but I’d thought they just wanted me to be one of their many Enforcers. Enforcers were gifted vampires like me. Well, kind of. A few months ago I’d been kidnapped by an evil vampire named Bronx and turned against my will, which awakened the sorceress’s bloodline inside me, unbeknownst to me. But Bronx knew all about it, and he’d planned to use my powers to defeat the Head Council. Only I’d killed him before he got the chance. Later on, I’d learned about my real mother being an all-powerful sorceress and how she’d used her magic to impregnate her vampire lover—my father. So I never really was just another vampire. Or even an Enforcer. I was always more than that. A whole new species altogether, a hybrid, and a hot commodity among the vampire world—since there was no other like me. Yet if the Head Council really wanted my partnership, then I just gained a whole lot of leverage. Anxiety curled through my belly. “If you want me to work with you, and of course the others, then I will need you to be more flexible. Rules are always in place for guidance, but we both know they are not in stone. Especially when I believe innocence is a key component.”
“When there is proof of one’s innocence, then we have a trial,” Tristan explained. “But there is no proof of that with this human.”
I thought about that for a moment. Sure, I didn’t have “proof” per se, but I had Tyler’s word. And though he’d lied to me about his alliance with Bronx, and the fact he’d known about my father’s death all along, for some crazy reason I believed him now. “Allow me the time to find the proof you require and I will consider partnering with you.”
Tristan shot me a lasered glare. His face softened but I had absolutely no idea what his thoughts were. Mind reading wasn’t one of my gifts—yet. Since no one could predict what other gifts I’d inherit.
“How can you possibly believe this human didn’t help those rogue vampires?” he asked at last.
Keeping my eyes on Tristan’s, I shook my head. “He was involved. I’m not saying I can prove that differently. He’s innocent of knowing what Bronx’s intentions were, what those rogue vampires’ intentions were.” I paused a moment to suppress some of the heat inside me, though I didn’t completely extinguish it just in case things got hostile again. “He thought he was helping them,” I went on. “He thought they were in trouble. He didn’t realize he was working for the bad guys until…until it was too late.”
Stone snorted in disbelief, but kept his mouth shut. Smart vampire.
Tristan’s eyes widened. “How can you possibly believe that? He must have you brainwashed!”
“That isn’t possible,” I told him.
“What are you speaking of?”—confusion in Tristan’s voice. “Bronx would have claimed you with his mind control had you not killed him first.”
“No, it’s not possible to brainwash me,” I explained. “And that is how I was able to kill Bronx.” Saying that struck a pang inside my chest: I didn’t want to be a murderer any more than I wanted to be a vampire, err hybrid. “I have the ability of blocking powers.”
A wave of surprise flashed over Tristan’s face. “There is so much to learn about you, Abigail,” he said.
“So do we have a deal?” I asked, taking a couple steps toward him.
Tristan raised a brow. “How much time are you asking for?”
“As long as it takes,” I replied instantly. “I have a feeling you and the others will delay me, since we are all curious to learn more about my powers.”
Tristan closed his eyes momentarily, presumably using his telepathic powers to confer with the other members of the Council. I stole a moment to look at Stone. He was shaking his head slowly, azure eyes with hints of red wide with shock. I shrugged my shoulders warily, knowing fully that to keep Tyler safe, I’d break this deal and the neck of anyone who attacked him. Obviously Stone knew that too.
“We have a deal,” Tristan finally announced.
I smiled. Relief flushed through me as the remnant heat within finally extinguished. Moments later, my breathing slowed and my heartbeat completely stopped. Oh the joys of being a vampire hybrid. “I have one more favor to ask,” I said, a whole new confidence exuding in my voice.
Stone called out, “Abby, what are you—”
“Silence, Mr. Rayver,” Tristan stated. “I am very interested in what Abigail will ask for now.”
“I want to speak to Madelaine. Will Elliott do that for me?” My real sorceress mother, Madelaine, had died long ago, and I’d never even had the chance to meet her. My father and one of his female blood donors, all the while believing she was my mother, had raised me. And though I’d love for Elliott to connect me to my father, I simply couldn’t risk giving away the fact he was dead too. Who knew how that little piece of info would affect the deal I’d just made, or the innocence I wanted to prove for Tyler. Bronx killed my father. But it was because of Tyler’s gift of premonition that Bronx was able to find my dad in the first place. So I guess you could say Tyler did carry some of the blame. But he’d sworn that he never thought Bronx would’ve killed him. And I believed him, hopefully not foolishly. So far I was taking the news of my father’s death okay. Maybe my estranged relationship with him was helping me through the mourning process. After all, he’d left me when I was ten. Fifteen years later, I’d finally gotten a phone call from him, warning me I was in danger. I never had a chance to thank him for trying to help me…or see him again.
“Abigail,” Tristan said, bringing me out of those thoughts. “You’re going to make a great addition to our team. You’re already very good at negotiations.” He chuckled lightly. “It will be our pleasure to call upon Madelaine for you and an honor to introduce you to your real mother.” Holding out his hand, he moved closer, giving me a good view of his violet eyes speckled with the deepest of cobalt, not a trace of crimson in them, which calmed me further. “So we have a deal?”
I nodded, taking his hand inside mine. “We have a deal.” Then I asked, “When do we leave?”
His answer was one simple word: “Dusk.”
I felt my chest tighten as he said it, even though I’d somewhat expected that to be his answer. Moving to where Stone was behind me, I threw my arms around his neck and buried my face against the softness of his tee, yet I could feel the ridged lines of muscle just beneath. “I know I just got back here, but I promise we’ll have more time once this is all over. I will miss you,” I told him, my voice muffled.
He gently grabbed my shoulders and pushed me back, just enough for him to look at my face. “What in the hell are you talking about? Do you actually think you can get rid of me that easy?”
“What do you mean?” I asked, feeling confused.
“I’m coming with you.”
“No, you’re not!” Tristan shouted from behind me.
I shrugged as a plan formed in my mind. “Wait a second. I think it’s a great idea for Stone to come.”
“No,” Tristan repeated.
“Actually, sir,” Stone said, “I can be of help to both Abby and the Council. I can help look for the information Abby seeks to clear her human while she is tied up with business affairs with you. It would make her that much more available.”
I felt my eyes widen. That was actually better than my plan. “But you hate Tyler.” And he did—with a passion.
“Oh I still hate him, but I think the world of you.” Stone gently gripped my chin, caressing it between his thumb and forefinger.
A lone tear I hadn’t felt before dripped from my eye as I smiled. Stone let go to wipe it and I glanced over at Tristan. “Please allow Stone to come with us. He would be a true asset. And he is my friend. Please.”
Tristan was quiet for a short moment, face hard, eyes studying us intently. “Very well.”
“Where are we going exactly?” I asked.
“Boston,” Tristan replied. “We have a few stronghold locations, but we are operating out of Boston right now. It’s good to move around. Staying in the same place for centuries can get quite boring. And it’s not as safe.”
I nodded. I’d never been to Boston before, but I’d heard it was an interesting place. A huge part of me was looking forward to seeing it, checking out all the historic monuments, buildings, and the statue of Sam Adams, if there would be any time for sightseeing. With Stone coming, we would certainly accomplish twice as much, twice as fast. I trusted that he would work diligently on finding a way to prove Tyler’s innocence. Though Stone despised Tyler, I was certain that he cared enough about me to do as he said he would. Yet Stone wouldn’t be upset in the slightest if he was unable to find the proof we needed to clear Tyler’s name.
There was also the uncertainty over what kind of situation I’d be getting myself into with the Head Council. Learning vampire politics and more about the new species I’d become when Bronx turned me…well, that could take more time from me than I could ever imagine. Plus meeting my mother for the first time and finding out more about her set my emotions swirling with anxiety.
I closed my eyes and let out a deep, long sigh. Just take one thing at a time, Abby. One thing at a time. Quit worrying about things that haven’t happened yet. Bronx was dead. Tyler was alive and pardoned for the moment. Lily, my closest human friend and old blood donor, was okay. Stone was here with me now and would stay with me at the Head Council’s stronghold. And I’d gotten pretty good control over my amazing, awesome, and insanely strong powers. I’d say my life, afterlife, whatever, was going pretty darn well at the moment. Yet, at the time, I had no idea just how quickly everything was about to change.