Ashes of Deceit: Chapter Three

Katelina woke from a bad dream. She found Jorick beside her, still asleep. She brushed his hair back from his face and felt something tighten in her chest. Though last night was still on her mind, it was hidden behind the more recent, and vivid, nightmares. Sometimes she didn’t know which was worse; her dreams or her reality.

She slipped from the bed and shut herself in the bathroom with her last two cigarettes. Dressed in a sweatshirt and underwear, she perched on the edge of the bathtub and smoked one after the other. The smoke filled the room with an artificial fog. It did little to hide the bloody towel in the far corner of the bathtub, or her bloody memories.

The door opened as she stabbed the last cigarette out in the ashtray. Jorick leaned in and frowned. Though she expected a lecture, he only said, “You should get dressed. We’ll be leaving soon.” Then he disappeared.

When she joined him in the bedroom, he was in the middle of peeling off his bandages. As he’d predicted, the skin underneath was flawlessly smooth. She helped him with the ones on his back, then dressed. She was barely finished when the knock sounded.

Like Jorick, Oren and Kale were both healed. Kale’s blonde hair was combed behind his ears. Though he’d rolled up the sleeves on his borrowed shirt, the clothing was obviously too big. Oren looked as irritated as ever and carried a garbage bag. Before she could ask about it, he thrust the bag at Jorick. “Put the bullets and your ruined clothes in here. We’ll get rid of it later.”

Jorick cocked an amused eyebrow, though did as he was told. Finished, he tossed the bag to Oren. “What’s the plan?”

Kale answered, “I’d like to go back to my coven, assuming they’re alive.”

Jorick looked surprised. “You think otherwise?”

“I don’t remember anything that happened. For all I know, they could have been killed.” His lips tightened and Katelina recognized the fury in his eyes. It was the same look Jorick had when Verchiel practically kidnapped her and took her to The Guild.

Jorick nodded. “If I recall, your den is in Kentucky?”

Oren cut in, “Yes. We already discussed the driving directions. It should be a six hour trip, assuming we don’t have to stop frequently.” His disdainful gaze landed on Katelina.

She glared back, but Jorick let the comment slide with a simple, “All right, let’s go.”

Oren was right. The trip was just under six hours, even with two stops; one at a truck stop for Katelina and the other at a roadside park for the vampires. Katelina and Jorick sat in the back of the van, so she didn’t see the house until she climbed out into the snow. It was two stories of weathered Victorian farmhouse with broken gingerbread trim and peeling paint. It was exactly what she’d come to expect from vampire dens.

The only sign of life was a light in one of the downstairs windows. Katelina drew back apprehensively. Maybe Kale’s coven had been murdered.

“There’s someone here,” Jorick assured her softly, his stance cautious. “Several, actually.”

Oren moved to join them while Kale charged fearlessly forward, his expressions a mixture of apprehension and anger. He climbed the sagging porch and pounded on the back door.

As the echoes died away, the door jerked open. A red-haired woman leapt out and grabbed Kale in a suffocating hug. She kissed him passionately and Katelina looked away.

“Apparently someone is alive,” Oren remarked.

Jorick nodded and Katelina shifted uncomfortably. They watched as Kale released the woman and then caught her hands in his. Katelina could hear the low tones of a hurried conversation, but she couldn’t understand it. They broke apart and the woman headed back indoors. Kale motioned to them before he followed her inside.

Oren narrowed his eyes. “It looks as though everything is fine. I’d have almost rather they were dead. It would have seemed less like they’d betrayed him.”

“And less like they might betray us?” Jorick suggested.

Though Oren didn’t answer, Katelina could guess what he’d say: exactly.

“We don’t have to stay,” she said. “If we go now they can’t stop us.”

Jorick shook his head. “We have to find out what happened. If it’s one of Kateesha’s agents, we need to stop them before things get out of hand.”

“You’re not the vampire’s police chief, you know. You quit the Executioners a long time ago.”

Jorick cocked an irritated brow. “Yes, I know. Now, come, and keep your wits about you.”

“Good luck with that,” Oren muttered under his breath.

She shot back, “You’re one to talk.”

Jorick made a noise of impatience and tugged her towards the sagging porch. Oren followed silently. The steps creaked under their feet. Katelina was grateful to get indoors, if only because the floor was more solid.

A tall, broad shouldered vampire with ebony skin appeared in the doorway. Katelina’s heart caught in her chest. It was Saeed, one of Kateesha’s ex guards. When they’d run into him and Kale at the Citadel, Jorick told her that allegiances could change and she should let the past go. How could she? She remembered Saeed and his twin brother holding Jorick down while Kateesha tried to kill him.

Jorick squeezed her hand too tight. The look on his face said he’d read her thoughts. “Hello, Saeed.”

The dark vampire nodded and led them deeper into the house. The electric lamps cheered Katelina a bit; electricity wasn’t guaranteed in vampire dens. But, the modern convenience couldn’t chase away her thoughts of bloody vengeance.

Kale was seated at a large dining table. The red-haired woman fussed over him, touching his face, his shirt, his hair. Her head snapped up as Saeed led the guests into the room, and she stepped back to stand by Kale’s chair, her hand lying protectively on his shoulder. She was of medium height and build, and her copper colored hair hung in a long braid. Freckles were scattered over her pale face, and her features were uninteresting at best and at worst, plain. If it hadn’t been for the immortal attraction that vampirism gave its children, Katelina doubted she’d have noticed her.

At Kale’s gesture, Jorick and Katelina each took a chair. Oren hesitated, then unhappily took the one next to her.

Kale sent Saeed to find the others and Katelina sought reassurance in Jorick’s eyes. He offered her a smile that didn’t seem genuine.

The members of Kale’s coven  filtered in and soon the six of them were in the dining room, their voices a babble of thankfulness.

If they’re so happy to see him, why didn’t they rescue him?

Kale interrupted the reunion. “Introductions are in order.” He pointed to each in turn, starting with the redheaded woman. “This is Rachel.” He next gestured to a dark haired male with a scar across his right cheek, who looked like he might be part Native American. “This is Joseff. This is Jorick and his human and Oren.” He indicated a pair of twenty-something brunette twins that looked identical except that one wore glasses. “Alex and Yaul.” Alex, the one with glasses, nodded. “And Saeed.”

Joseff studied their visitors with dark, narrowed eyes. “What are they doing here?”

Though Jorick leaned back casually in his chair, his eyes met the challenge. “We brought your coven master back to you, since you were too busy to go yourself.”

“We turned it over to The Guild,” Joseff bit back.

Yaul stepped forward, though his twin tried to stop him. “And they didn’t do anything, just like I said they wouldn’t.” His eyes went to Rachel, who looked away, her cheeks pink.

Jorick met Joseff’s angry stare. “When did you go to them?”

Rachel answered for him. Her voice was nasal, but softened by a southern accent. “The night Kale disappeared. The decision was mine, not Joseff’s. I know it’s best not to involve them, but none of us are Hunters.” Her eyes dropped to Kale. “We didn’t know where you’d gone or what had happened!”

Kale patted her hand. “You did what you thought was best.”

Jorick’s eyes smoldered with interest. “How many days was Kale missing?”

Rachel answered without hesitation, “Ten.”

Jorick seemed to count the days in his head. “We found out that he was missing a week after the fact – in a tabloid, no less – yet the Executioners arrived after us.”

Without thinking, Katelina said, “Verchiel was busy with the murder. He probably had to do that before he could go get Kale.”

At her words the hostility in the room increased, especially from Jorick.

“Verchiel?” Yaul demanded.

“The Wind Walker,” Kale explained. “He’s one of the Executioners.”

Joseff snarled. “The Wind Walker has never helped anyone. He breezes in, jokes and leaves again. Trust Jorick to have a friend among them still, especially one like him.”

Jorick all but roared, “He’s no friend of mine! And murder or no murder, he might have done something sooner!”

Alex cleared his throat loudly. “Not to interrupt, but we’re getting sidetracked. Where have you been Kale, what tabloid are you talking about and what murder?”

Jorick took the last question. “The murder has nothing to do with this.”

“Let me be the judge of that,” Joseff snapped.

Jorick rolled his eyes. “It was a few days ago, roughly an hour and a half from my den. Three vampires were killed during the day. Their two coven mates woke, found them and panicked. Luckily, I suppose, they ran into a member of the lesser guard, who reported it to The Guild. The redheaded idiot was sent to investigate.”

“And where are the survivors?” Joseff asked suspiciously.

With exaggerated patience Jorick answered, “They joined Traven’s coven.”

Yaul interrupted, “Who’s Traven?”

“He has an alliance with Oren,” Kale said.

Jorick brushed their interruptions aside impatiently. “As I said, it has nothing to do with this. And as for the tabloid-” he pulled the wrinkled article from his pocket and tossed it on the table, “- you can read it for yourself.”

They took turns handing the article around, then Kale launched into his story. He’d gone out to feed alone, then everything had gone black. He woke up in the detainment cell, where he’d been informed that he was going to be tested.

From that point on, he said, things were a blur. At first they fed him and drew blood, rendering him helpless with a gas. Then they starved him for the last four days, only feeding him his own blood, which didn’t nourish him.

As he spoke, Rachel’s hand tightened on his shoulder and her jaw clenched. The others made appropriate noises of outrage, except Jorick who looked even more interested.

“What gas?” he asked.

Joseff glared. “Does it matter?”

“It might. If they already have a gas that can stop a vampire…”

“You think they’ve studied vampires before?” Oren asked.

Katelina shifted in her squeaky chair. She’d read crazy things before that said people had captured everything from aliens to Bigfoot. What if they really had experimented on a vampire before?

Alex looked thoughtful. “If they have a knock-out gas, for lack of a better word, that explains how they were able to subdue Kale and abduct him. But, how did they find him?”

“That’s the question,” Oren agreed. “Who else knows the location of your den?”

“The Guild must, if they summoned Kale to the Citadel,” Jorick said. “If they know, it wouldn’t be too hard for someone who wanted the information to get it.”

Kale looked concerned. “There was that messenger, while I was at The Guild.” He caught Joseff’s eyes. “The one who left an address in Florida and wanted to know where Kateesha’s possessions were.”

“A ruse, maybe? Sent to make sure of your whereabouts?” Jorick suggested.

Kale shrugged. “But who? If it was someone with a personal vendetta, why didn’t they just kill me? Why hand me over to humans?”

Rachel interrupted, “Whoever is responsible didn’t want you dead.  They wanted you to suffer, and we both know who that is!”

“No,” Kale said softly. “It wouldn’t be.”

When no more information seemed forthcoming, Jorick asked patiently, “I don’t suppose you’d like to tell the rest of us who you have in mind?”

Without meeting Kale’s eyes, Rachel answered, “Thomas.”

The name was familiar and Katelina whispered to Jorick, “She doesn’t mean Anya’s brother, the one who spied on us for Kateesha’s coven and then tried to blame you for it?”

“Yes,” Rachel cut in. “The one who betrayed you and the one who made me.”

Kale growled low in his throat and the air palpably thickened with unease. “It wasn’t him.”

“How do you know?” she asked. “You remember the things he used to do, Kale. You know what he’s like!”

Katelina thought suddenly of the makeshift trial, when she’d been exonerated of willful sabotage by murdering Kateesha. Afterwards, Thomas had said something about Kale… Something like, “You might be surprised what I have the balls to do. Why don’t you ask Kale about that sometime?” With that memory came a new curiosity.

Jorick cocked an inquisitive eyebrow. “Why does Thomas have a grudge against Kale?”

“Yeah, I’d like to know that,” Yaul said, looking from one to the other.

Kale sighed and Rachel visibly steeled herself. “Thomas and his sister had a lot of money once. They lived in a large plantation house. My family was poor, so when they took me on as a servant my parents was elated. I worked there for a short time before I discovered what they were,” she glanced to Saeed, but he didn’t meet her eyes. “That happened a lot back then,” she explained, looking at Katelina. “Vampires weren’t as careful because no one listened to what slaves or servants said. Anyhow, Thomas took a liking to me and he turned me.” She faltered. “He wasn’t the kindest of masters. I met Kale at a ball. He was in attendance with Claudius, and we…” Though she trailed off, the pink tint to her cheeks told the rest of the story.

“After that he tried to convince Thomas to free me, but he refused and turned even crueler. When Kale had had enough of it, he came for me.”

Yaul poked Joseff in the ribs, “Did you know that?”

“Yes,” he answered testily. “I helped rescue her.”

Rachel met Jorick’s eyes. “That night, Thomas swore he’d get revenge, that he’d make them suffer. He joined your fight against Claudius readily enough, and now he’s looking to make Kale suffer.”

“Except he didn’t,” Oren said. “Neither he nor his sister were interested in the war with Claudius. They didn’t join me until afterwards. It was Kateesha and The Guild they wanted to fight.”

“Or so they said,” Rachel insisted. “It had to be him. There’s no one else.”

Joseff nodded, his angry eyes burning. “Thomas is the only one who’d do such a cowardly thing.”

“Works for me!” Yaul slapped the table. “So when do we wipe them out?”

Kale sighed heavily. “I’m not sure it was Thomas.”

“There’s no one else.” Rachel took Kale’s hands. “I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t think it was true, you know that. I don’t believe in vengeance for vengeance’s sake. But Kale, if he’s trying to hurt you…” her voice cracked. “If he’s hurting you, then I want him hurt.”

“I know.” Kale’s hand strayed up to her cheek, and he wiped away an errant tear. “All right, Thomas it is.” He turned to Oren. “The deal we discussed earlier?”

“Deal?” Katelina whispered, and Jorick just shrugged.

Oren nodded. “I keep my word.”

“Very well.” Kale stood. He leaned on the table and let his blue eyes sweep over the assembled vampires. “Last night, Oren promised the help of his coven to fight whoever was responsible for my imprisonment, if we assist in his battle with The Guild. I accept his offer.” He straightened up and looked to Oren and Jorick. “When can they be here?”

Katelina groaned silently.

<<<PROLOGUE

 <<CHAPTER 1

  <CHAPTER 2

    CHAPTER 3

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Ashes of Deceit: Chapter Two

WARNING: Sexual Content

Katelina refused to be alone with Kale, so she stayed on the floor between the front seats. She clutched Jorick’s leg and fought to hold down her heaving stomach.

Oren gripped the steering wheel fiercely. Blood spots blossomed on his clothes like red flowers, and his amber eyes were wild. “What in the hell was that?”

“How should I know?” Jorick stretched out the front of his shirt to examine it. Light shown through multiple bullet holes. “Look at this!”

Katelina gasped and Oren snapped, “What possessed you to make such a scene?”

“It wasn’t my idea! You can thank Kale for that!”

As if summoned, Kale peeped out from the heavy curtain. He looked better since he’d fed; his skin had color and substance. Even his hair seemed less limp. The blood that stained his shirt and his face disgusted Katelina more than his wasted appearance had.It wasn’t just the color, but the smell. Though she tried to move away,  there was nowhere to go.

“What were you thinking?” Jorick demanded. “Why didn’t you leave them to me? I could have controlled them!”

Kale shook his head. “Not all of them!”

“Yes, I could have easily handled two, and even five! Regardless, you only need to control the leader and the weaker ones follow!”

“There are better ways of killing!” Oren cut in. “You didn’t have to make such a mess! Someone will have to clean that up.”

Kale grimaced. “I’m sorry, I was hungry! They’ve kept me down there without anything for days! What did you expect me to do?”

Oren gestured him to silence. “And what about the damned alarm, Jorick? I thought you said-”

“Hectia thought they were disabled. You noticed the other alarms didn’t go off.”

“Well who would have heard them if they had?” Kale asked. “I tried to tell you to enter the key code first!”

Katelina wanted to point out that they couldn’t hear him, but she couldn’t get a word in.

“The police couldn’t have been reacting to that alarm!” Oren argued. “They aren’t that fast!”

Jorick ran an irritated hand through his hair. “Maybe they are, or maybe we tripped a silent alarm at some point.”

Oren growled. “Probably when we went in the window!”

“Or maybe when you went in the office?” Katelina suggested venomously. “You’re so fast to blame everyone else!”

Kale cocked an incredulous eyebrow. “Well it doesn’t matter. Your friend will clean it up, I imagine.”

Jorick jerked towards Kale and roared, “He is not my friend!”

Everyone flinched at his sudden rage. Kale muttered an apology, and Katelina asked uncertainly, “How are they going to ‘clean it up’? They can dispose of the bodies, and maybe the cars, but someone heard the gunshots.” Unless they were all deaf.

Jorick shrugged. “They’ll call in a whisperer  to convince the people that they didn’t hear anything, or that it was an explosion or a car backfiring, or some other ridiculous thing.” He scowled suddenly. “That idiot Verchiel could surely handle that much.”

“Verchiel?” Kale repeated the name slowly, as if looking for something in the sounds. “Is he an Executioner?”

“Yes,” Oren replied. “The Wind Walker some call him.”

“Oh, him.”  Kale suddenly seemed to notice his condition and wiped at his face with his sleeve. “Claudius used to talk to him.”

Jorick slammed his fist into the dashboard. “I knew he couldn’t be trusted!”

The name Claudius had a different effect on Katelina. Instead of shouting, she tried to curl into herself. Claudius’ pouty, teenage face swam behind her eyes. His cold sneer was seared forever in her brain like an ugly scar that refused to fade.

Oren snorted contemptuously. “I might have guessed he was one of Claudius’.”

Kale took their anger in stride. “Not in that way. He’s the one The Guild sent whenever Claudius complained. He was the one who initially investigated Arowenia’s… disappearance, before Senya and her group took over.” He cleared his throat nervously, perhaps realizing for the first time that he’d been a member of their enemy’s coven and was now completely in their power. “As we’ve agreed, though, that’s all in the past.”

“Of course.” Jorick dismissed it with a wave and muttered under his breath, “What I want to know is why he let us go!”

Oren glanced at him. “Ask your human. She seems to be on good terms with him.”

“No, she isn’t.”

Under his angry gaze they all fell silent. Katelina tried to banish bloody thoughts from her head, but images popped to the surface: the policeman’s throat torn and gushing blood. Oren slamming a cop into the car. Jorick holding a limp body in his hands. Her stomach clenched. The face of the youngest cop wavered before her. He was someone’s son, brother, husband or father. She’d seen Jorick and Oren kill before, but their victims had been vampires in battle, not humans with families that would never see them again. It was nearly Christmas, and this year their celebrations would be held around a casket, with tears and anger their only presents.

She noticed Jorick watching her and looked away quickly, though she knew he’d probably seen the thought in her mind. She’d accepted him and the new life; the blood, the gore, the battles. Seeing them kill people… Somehow that was different.

Jorick spoke so low she could barely hear him, “What makes you think a vampire doesn’t have someone who cares for them? Oren mourns Jesslynn’s death, as does her brother. She had a family, the same as the policemen. Wouldn’t you be sad if I died?”

Oren made a noise in his throat. His face gave his negative opinion on the subject.

“Of course! But you’re different!”

“Because you care about me?” Jorick smiled but not kindly. “Does that make me different than the people you don’t care about? You once encouraged me to kill Hectia and Verchiel, then you balk when the blood is human. So long as the death means nothing to you, it’s acceptable. And you humans think we’re the monsters. “

“I never said that! I never said anything!”

“You don’t have to. And I didn’t intend to kill anyone until Kale-”

“I never said you did!” she snapped over him. “I’m sorry. I’m not used to bloodbaths! You might cut me a little slack!”

“The same could be said for you.”

With nothing else to say, she let the conversation drop.

At the next town, the vampires sent Katelina into a gas station with Oren’s money and a list of seemingly random items, including peroxide, several rolls of gauze, a box of bandages, and a pair of tweezers. The tweezers were the hardest to find, though she finally located a ridiculously priced manicure kit. As a fetcher’s fee, she picked up something to eat and drink, and pocketed the change. When she climbed back in the van, she tossed the bag in Oren’s lap with an expression that dared him to complain. He glared, but kept his opinion to himself.

She took a savage bite of her dinner and asked, “So what’s the peroxide for? It’s not like you need to worry about infections.”

Oren snorted contemptuously. “No, but I am hoping to salvage this shirt.”

The sudden image of Oren carefully cleaning the blood from his clothes made her choke. It was just like him.

It was barely after four a.m. when they pulled into a motel. Jorick checked in and returned with the assurance, “The attendant won’t remember us by morning.”

They all piled out of the van. Though they’d rented two rooms, they headed into one. Oren gave Katelina a dirty look as she dropped the gym bag into a chair. “Perhaps we should go to the other room?”

“She’ll be fine,” Jorick replied. “She can stay in here.”

With no explanation, he motioned Oren and Kale to follow him into the bathroom. The door snapped shut. She stared after them and commented to no one, “That’s weird.”

Alone, she peeled off her coat and flopped on the bed. When the vampires didn’t reappear, she turned on the TV. The late night programming didn’t hold her interest. As minutes ticked past, she grew more and more curious. What kind of meeting were they having in the bathroom?

She muted the TV and pressed her ear to the door. The only sound was running water. She imagined the three of them in the shower together and choked loudly.

Jorick’s muffled voice commanded, “Go watch TV. We’ll be finished shortly.”

She tried unsuccessfully to banish the image from her head. “What are you guys doing in there?”

There was no answer. She grabbed the door knob and Jorick called, “I wouldn’t do that, or you’ll see more of Oren than you want to.”

She jerked away from the door, hands in front of her. “What in the hell are you doing?”

They didn’t answer, and the mental pictures she conjured were both horrifying and intriguing. Determined to banish them, she unmuted the TV. She managed a handful of minutes before Kale shouted, “Ouch! Watch it!”

Oren followed with a surly, “I’m finished. Get out of the way.”

That was it.

She swept to the door and jerked it open. The three vampires stared back at her. Kale sat on the edge of the bathtub, naked from the waist up, patting his chest with a wet, bloody towel. Jorick, similarly undressed, leaned over the sink, his palms pressed down on the countertop. Bullet holes riddled his back like pock marks. Oren stood behind him in the same attire, a pair of bloody tweezers in his hand and an exasperated expression on his face. Katelina tried not to notice the freckles on his shoulders.

“Can we help you?”

Words failed her. Oren rolled his eyes and turned his attention to Jorick. With more violence than she thought necessary, he jabbed the tweezers into one of the bloody wounds.

“Got it.” Oren pulled a bloody metal fragment from the hole and dropped it in the sink where it plinked softly. Katelina stepped forward and peered down into the basin. Several bits of smashed metal were collected around the drain.

“Oh.”

“If you’re done staring, you might go away? Or perhaps you’d like a try?” Oren offered her the tweezers sarcastically and then went back to his work.

Jorick met Katelina’s eyes and forced a smile that was more a grimace. “How did you think the bullets came out, little one?”

“I don’t know.” She stepped back and leaned against the doorframe, watching with a mixture of fascination and horror. Bullets were something you shot, not something you pulled out. In the movies they went all the way through and left a big, gaping hole and movies were her only experience with gunshots – until now.

Bullets plinked in the sink, one after another. Oren finished Jorick’s back, then the dark haired vampire turned around and Oren worked on his chest.

“There are two in my right leg,” Jorick said. “I can get them myself.”

The last bullet landed in the sink and Oren answered, “Suit yourself.” He dropped the tweezers into Jorick’s hand and picked up the roll of gauze. “Kale?”

He stood reluctantly and dropped the bloody towel into the sink. Katelina bit back a gasp; his chest and torso were like a piece of meat that had been chewed up.

Oren wrapped the mess in layers of gauze, using first one roll and then a second. “That should do.” He looked to the open box of bandages on the back of the toilet. “Do you need help?”

Jorick shook his head and indicated Katelina.

“In that case, we’ll be back.” He snatched up his wet, but bloodless, shirt and motioned Kale to follow him.

They left Katelina staring at the gory towel in the sink. Jorick followed her eyes and commented, “He took a full magazine in the stomach, at point blank range. His own fault, of course.”

She cringed. “I thought the human blood would have healed that.”

“It did, partially, but it healed around the bullets. We had to dig them out.” He tossed his jeans aside and perched on the edge of the sink, one foot balanced on the towel rack. Silently, he stabbed at a hole in his thigh and fished out the bullet. When he finished, he started on the other wound, just above his knee. “It’s not as bad as it looks.”

“Are you sure?” Her instincts said that bleeding holes were a very bad thing.

“I’ll be fine. By tomorrow night there won’t be a mark left.” He dropped the bullet into the sink, then turned to her. “Are you all right?”

“Yeah. I was in the van the whole time.”

Something smoldered in the depths of his eyes. Then they dropped away. “That isn’t what I meant.” He handed her the box of bandages. “If you want to get the ones on my back?”

She stared at them as if they were foreign objects.

“What? I didn’t think you’d want me to get blood all over. I heal faster than you, but not that fast. If it bothers you …”

“No, it doesn’t,” she said quickly, and peeled one open. “You just don’t normally use bandages.”

“I’m not normally riddled with bullets.”

She finished his back and threw the heap of bandage wrappers in the garbage can, just as a knock sounded on the bedroom door.

“Ah, that will be Oren and Kale. Go ahead and take a shower and I’ll deal with them.”

“What is there to deal with?”

He tossed the bloody towel in the tub, then scooped the bullets out of the sink and into the trashcan. “You know Oren. We’ll have to talk the night to death.” He gave her a wink as he tugged on his pants. “I’ll bring the bag in for you.”

He left, shutting the door behind him.

A shower wasn’t a bad idea, so she peeled off her clothes and climbed in the tub. She kicked the bloody towel to the far end and tried to ignore it, just like she tried to ignore the thoughts raging through her brain. Like others before him, the cop’s screams echoed in her ears. She tried to drown them out with half remembered song lyrics, but the tune moved to the beat of bullets.

When she finished, she found the bag perched on the sink. She hadn’t heard Jorick come in; another of his vampire skills.

She dried off and paused before the mirror. Her eyes lingered on her scars. Though some of them, including the long jagged one that ran from her hip to just below her breast, should have been life threatening, they’d healed with Jorick’s blood when he’d linked her.

There were still moments when she missed the Linking, but they were growing fewer. When they’d been linked, she could feel his emotions and sense him in a way that she couldn’t now. The trade off was that he could hear her thoughts, whether he wanted to or not. As it stood now, he could read her mind when he chose, but when linked, there’d been no way for him to shut her out. It was only Kateesha’s blood that had broken the bond, and that was her own fault. In a fit of rage, she’d claimed the vampiress’s heart and drank from it, something she’d learned to regret.

She shook off the memories and stared at her reflection. Though she was pale and shadows lurked in the depths of her blue eyes, she looked healthy – not like she lived on a diet of convenience food and soda. Jorick had told her that vampire blood would change humans; make them stronger and more resilient. She didn’t feel more resilient, but maybe she was? It made her wonder just how much blood she’d had.

Her eyes dropped to the scar above her right collar bone: a vampire bite with a small cross cut beneath it. It was Jorick’s mark, to claim her as his – what? Property? She wasn’t sure how she felt about that, but she understood. It was one of a myriad of vampire laws concerning their relations with humans. She assumed it was a hold-over from the old days when people could be identified and tracked by unusual scars. Now they just needed to use GPS. When the vampires updated their laws, they’d probably make RFID chips mandatory.

The thought made her shiver. She turned to her discarded clothes and pulled out the contents of her jean pockets: a receipt, her change, and a tarnished silver cross.

It was an odd thing for her to keep. It belonged to Jorick’s dead wife, Velnya. He’d thrown it into the fireplace with her old letters; a symbolic gesture to prove to them both that he’d let his ghosts go. Katelina had saved it, though she couldn’t say why. Since then, she’d transferred it from pocket to pocket, like some kind of perverse good luck charm.

Thinking about Velnya depressed her, so she dressed quickly and strained to hear the conversation on the other side of the door. The vampires’ voices were too low.

She walked out of the bathroom to find Jorick in the middle of the room, dressed in new clothes, hands on his hips. Oren leaned against the dresser, his eyes on Kale, who sat in one of the chairs. “You’re sure you don’t remember what happened?”

“I told you, one minute I was hunting and the next I was in that cage. I already said it wasn’t anyone from my coven!”

Oren nodded impatiently. “None of them came to rescue you. We only found out because it was published in a human newspaper. The Executioners showed up when we did, so they probably found out the same way.”

Jorick appeared neutral. “I doubt very much if it was the doctor, or even a human who captured you. It had to be a vampire. They probably helped the institute get the room prepared before they caught a specimen.”

Oren groaned. “But why? The humans’ goal was to use our altered genetics to improve themselves and create a ‘super race’. What vampire would want that?”

Katelina cleared her throat loudly. “Kateesha wanted to start a war with them, remember?”

Oren threw up his hands. “Yes, but not give them an advantage!”

Jorick’s lips tightened. “Leave it.” He motioned Katelina to his side, then wrapped an arm around her waist and pulled her to him. “Kateesha is gone, but perhaps her plan survived?”

Kale rubbed his forehead. “With who? We know where everyone is. My coven isn’t carrying on Kateesha’s ridiculous campaign. We didn’t even know about it before she died. She wasn’t like Claudius; she kept her plans in her inner circle and the rest of us followed blindly.” He cleared his throat and his eyes shifted away. “And though Anya took a few from Kateesha’s coven, I can’t imagine that she’d want that. Last I heard, she wanted to fight The Guild, too.”

Jorick nodded. “That may be true, but how do we know where everyone is? Hectia was unaccounted for after Claudius died. Alistair was a member of Kateesha’s coven and we thought we knew where he was.” Kale looked blank at the reference, so Jorick explained. “He left the coven he’d joined in order to attack me and Katelina and avenge Kateesha’s death.”

Oren tugged at his shirt, fixing imaginary wrinkles. “Yes, we had more than one encounter with him. In fact, we dispatched him only last night.”

Kale’s attention snapped to Jorick. “You didn’t mention that when I saw you at the Citadel.”

“It hadn’t happened yet,” Jorick said.

They fell into a thoughtful silence that Jorick broke. “It’s nearly dawn. We should rest.”

The other two left with pointed goodnights and Jorick dropped into one of the chairs. His shoulders sagged and he sighed heavily.

Katelina moved behind him. “Are you all right?” When he didn’t respond, she placed her hands on his shoulders and repeated her question.

He lifted his head. Something dark shifted in his eyes, then he caught her hand and brushed his lips over her surprised fingers. “I’m fine. Just tired.”

She glanced at the window. “Are you sleeping in the bed or…” she hoped the rest of the sentence was unnecessary.

“I don’t know.” He stood and surveyed the window and furnishings. “I think I can manage it.”

“Good. It’s been a horrible couple of days.”

“Yes, it has. But it’s better now.”

He caught her face and held it with his fingertips, as though it was something fragile and precious. She gazed into his eyes, drowning in the smoldering, silky depths. Her breath caught in her throat. The world seemed to fall away and all that remained was the heat of his eyes and the steady thumping of her heart in her ears.

He leaned close to kiss her, but stopped a hairsbreadth from her lips. A smile spread over his face and he dipped his mouth to her jaw. Warm kisses fluttered against her skin and trailed down her neck. He paused at the mark he’d made. His tongue ran over the small ridge of scar. A shiver raced down her spine at the contact and she wrapped her arms around him.

He nipped at her mark and she tensed in anticipation. His lips on her neck did as much to turn her on as they would in more intimate places. Though there was pleasure to be derived from the physical act of sex, the real pleasure came from the bite; the connection between her mind and his, a pleasure that could be gotten by no other means. That was what made sex with a vampire overwhelming and addictive.

She felt his fangs scrape the scar. He released her before he broke the skin, saving the most intimate contact for later.

He tugged her shirt over her head, and tossed it aside. His hands moved over her naked back and his lips crushed hers. She melted against him, her body flowing effortlessly into his, molding against his hard chest. She slipped her fingers under his shirt and he pulled away long enough to cast the garment aside.

He captured her lips, but abandoned them too quickly, first for the soft skin of her neck and then for her shoulders. A low moan reverberated in her throat as he dropped the straps of her lacy bra and traced his tongue over the round curve of her breasts.

“Jorick.” Her hands moved over his back. His skin was like a smooth ocean punctuated by small bandage islands. She skimmed around them, and traced the contours of his muscles with her fingertips.

He kissed his way back up her shoulders to her neck. His hands were large and warm as they wrapped around her breasts and his thumbs traced over her hard nipples. His teeth scraped against her skin and she could feel his desire, as thick and hot as her own.

She moved her hips against his and murmured his name again, her voice more urgent. His erection pressed into her thigh, and she dropped her hand to open his pants and tug it out. She wrapped her hand around it and felt a flush of satisfaction as he moaned and ground his hips into her.

As one they moved towards the bed. She backed into the mattress and fell back onto it, Jorick on top of her. He kissed her deeply, then slid away so she could pull her legs up. When he came back, his clothes were a heap on the floor.

She reached for him, but he ducked away and unfastened her jeans. She wriggled out of them impatiently, now naked except for the bra hanging from her arms. He left it where it was and settled into the hollow between her legs, sliding easily into position. She moved her hips, urging him on, but he stopped, teasing her, and lowered his lips to her neck. One hand supported her head and he shifted to trace the other over her stomach and then dipped it between her thighs. She gasped as his fingertips exploited her most sensitive spots, teasing her, tantalizing her and driving her closer and closer to the edge.

“Oh, Jorick,” she sobbed, desperate for more, for him. She bit her lip and tasted blood. Strangely, the flavor fueled her excitement. She caught his mouth with hers, the kiss hard and sloppy. His tongue darted out and licked the blood from her lip. He moaned with matching desperation.

He moved his hand away and quickly dropped his hips into place. She wrapped her legs around him and pulled him into her. Her back arched as he filled her and she moaned his name as he thrust deeper. She gripped his back. The muscles moved and tensed beneath her eager palms. His lips wrapped around her throat, just above her right collar bone, and she could feel the pressure of his fangs against the tender flesh.

Though she urged him on, he hesitated, as if savoring the building desire. Impatiently, she bit his shoulder, at first teasing. The feel of the flesh between her teeth sparked something and she bit harder. The coppery taste of blood splashed onto her tongue. Jorick stiffened in surprise and then let out a heated moan. Something stirred in her subconscious; dark primitive memories of a thick, spicy liquid slipping down her throat. Instinctively she clamped down tighter, her need and desire overriding everything else.

Her heart pounded in her ears. Over the sound of it she heard Jorick give a strangled cry. Then, he sunk his teeth into her and the world turned into a shimmering place of ecstasy. Strange images flashed behind her eyes, foreign things that moved too fast for her to understand or comprehend. She could feel him everywhere, inside, outside, all around her, hot and pulsing.

Lost in the sensation that his bite brought, she didn’t notice her teeth grind into him, forcing his blood into her eager mouth. As it burned down her throat, the flashing images began to sharpen and grow clear. The muddle of voices and words turned into something she could almost understand. A desperate part of her subconscious pushed her onward, telling her that she was so close, that she was almost there, almost done, almost-

And then it stopped as Jorick ripped away from her. His chest heaved and his eyes were clouded with a mixture of passion and bloodlust. “What are you-” She got no further before he came back. His hungry teeth pierced her again and she was lost to the tides.

Though much of the driving intensity was gone, the pleasure was still overwhelming. Seconds crashed into one another and minutes disappeared in a smear of moans and sweat. Then the world exploded and she was left floating in a sea of ecstasy.

Jorick buried his head in her hair, his breathing hard and ragged as he gasped for air that he didn’t need. She opened her eyes and looked down to see his pale shoulder. The skin was sealed; healed by her blood, but a bright smear of crimson told the story.

She wiped at it and fought the urge to lick her fingers. What in the hell is wrong with me?

“Nothing,” Jorick said softly. He tightened his arms around her. “You’re just getting a taste for it.”

“A taste for it?” Her eyes went wide with horror and her cheeks tinted pink. “What in the hell?”

Jorick sighed against her and then moved to rest his forehead against hers. His dark hair fell around them like a curtain that shut out the rational world. “It happens. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about.”

“Who the hell said I was embarrassed?” She tried to jerk away but there was nowhere to go. “I don’t know how I’d have a taste for it. It’s not like I’ve had a ton of it!”

He cleared his throat uncomfortably. “You’ve had more than you think. Ever since the Linking you’ve been… when we…” His eyes skipped away, uncharacteristically uncomfortable, as though reluctant to share bad news. “When we make love, you’ve been ingesting small quantities.”

“Of what? Of your blood? I’d have noticed that!” Would she? Once he bit her the world faded away. Would she know if she was… but she did know. She’d known all along, whether she wanted to or not. Her cheeks burned and she looked away. No matter how bizarre her surroundings, she was at least normal, but now – How is drinking someone’s blood during sex normal?

“I do it,” he pointed out to her unspoken thoughts, teasing. When she didn’t answer, he turned serious. “It’s all right, little one, so long as you don’t take too much at a time. That’s how a linking is done, after all.”

“It can’t be that easy, and it doesn’t hurt!” He looked confused and her embarrassment doubled as she stuttered out, “I don’t know… I mean… I just thought that… you know, a linking would…”

He slipped his arms around her and nuzzled her cheek. “It isn’t meant to be a painful process, Katelina. I’ve told you before that you don’t need to be near death for it to work. I imagine it could be possible to get caught up in the moment and then regret the consequences later.”

She choked on the implications. “Well it would be easy to get rid of. You just need another vampire’s blood.”

A strange noise ground in his throat and his hold tightened in an almost hostile way. “No, it isn’t. Depending on whose blood you’re drinking, it’s tantamount to cheating.”

“You’re saying I had an affair with Kateesha?” she asked dubiously.

“No, but killing her is different than approaching someone to get rid of a linking. It’s the intent that matters.”

“Is it?” The intricacies of vampire relationships gave her a headache.

Though he didn’t move, she could feel his body tense. “Who would you ask?”

The conversation was veering into territory she couldn’t deal with. “I don’t know. No one. It was hypothetical. I don’t want to go around drinking a bunch of vampire blood.” She stopped herself from adding that it was horrific enough to know she’d been drinking his.

Whether he plucked the thoughts from her mind or was just tired of the conversation, he pressed a kiss against her cheek and pulled away. “The sun is rising. The drapes are enough to keep it out for now, but I’d better block it before it gets much higher.”

She nodded mutely and watched as he slid from the bed and stacked the furniture in front of the window. Unbidden, her mind slipped back to the Citadel and a conversation she’d had with Verchiel about what he called vampire junkies.

“They get addicted to vampire blood. You can drink it for years without being turned or linked, as long as you don’t drink a huge quantity of it at a shot. Things get complicated, though, when they start drinking off of various vampires. All those mixed allegiances.”

The idea still made her shudder and she suddenly wondered what in the hell she’d gotten herself into.

<<PROLOGUE

 <CHAPTER 1

   CHAPTER 2

   CHAPTER 3 >

Ashes of Deceit: Chapter One

WARNING: Graphic Violence

Katelina walked out of the truck stop and eyed the dented, ugly carpet van. It stared back, like a dragon that wanted to swallow her whole. A blast of winter wind rattled her and she brushed her blonde hair from her face. She’d been volunteered to drive to Michigan and the Institute of Supernatural and Unexplained Sciences to help rescue a vampire, while Jorick and his fledgling, Oren, were going to sleep in wooden boxes in the back.

She wondered if it was legal to transport vampires over a state border. There should be a law about that, she mused silently. Maybe there was. The Guild, the vampires’ government, had laws for everything else, and they used the Executioners to enforce them. As the name implied, there seemed to be only one penalty for misconduct.

Oren walked out of the truck stop, his tawny hair streaming in the wind. His amber eyes flicked over her and he bit off the careful words, “Jorick thinks you can handle it.” He shoved the keys into her hand, then he climbed into the back of the van and pulled the doors closed.

Jorick was waiting patiently by the passenger’s door. Katelina’s gaze flicked over him; his flawlessly smooth skin, broad shoulders, and long, black hair. As she met his eyes, her apprehension disappeared in the warm, silky depths. She knew he produced the artificial calm, just one of many in his bag of vampire tricks, but she shoved it away. Though he meant well, she didn’t like the manipulation.

He shrugged and swung into the passenger seat. Though the sun would rise soon, he sat next to her as she fumbled the vehicle onto the road.

“I’ve never driven anything this big.”

“You’ll be fine, little one. You have the directions and there’s money in the glove box for gas and anything you need. As soon as it gets dark, Oren will take over.”

She nodded along as if his words were a song with a good beat. “What do I do if I get pulled over? I don’t have any ID on me.”

He offered her a fanged smile that left her irritated. “Don’t.”

Shortly afterwards, he slipped behind a curtain to the back of the van, and sealed himself in a box. Once she was sure both vampires were settled, she pulled into the next gas station and bought a pack of cigarettes. She’d quit, but today seemed like a good time to start again. They were probably going to get killed, so lung cancer wouldn’t matter.

As the miles passed, the radio was her only companion. She took a sick comfort in the noise and fell to talking to it.

“We’re only rescuing Kale because Oren wants to recruit him for his stupid war with the Guild. We don’t really know him, and if Kale’s dumb enough to get caught by humans, then he can get himself out.”

The last statement jarred her. There was an implication behind it that humans were somehow lower. The tiny shift in attitude scared her. She was still human. Obviously she’d spent too much time with those who weren’t.

She pushed it away. “It’s just as well that I’m here. It’s only some crack pot doctor with a pseudo facility but, since I met Oren, he’s had dead bodies piling up behind him. I suppose I should feel sorry for him. His wife and kids got killed by the Executioners a couple months ago, but it’s hard when he always acts like I’m beneath him. That’s how all of Jorick’s stupid vampire friends act. Except Loren and Verchiel.

“Though Verchiel’s hardly Jorick’s friend, more like someone he’d like to see hung by his own entrails.” She pictured Verchiel for a moment. Like his motives, his appearance was an enigma. His longish hair was so ridiculously red it looked fake, while his features were Asian. “I don’t know why Jorick hates him so much. Sure, he’s an Executioner, and most of them are pure evil, but he’s not too bad. Okay, he’s a pain in the ass, and I haven’t forgotten that crap of locking me in that little room when he hauled me to the Citadel a few weeks ago, but he’s better than a lot of the others. You can almost talk to him.” She heaved a sigh. “Maybe I’m just desperate for a friend. I am talking to a radio.”

The answer was a commercial about whiter teeth for Christmas. Disgusted, she fell silent. It wasn’t that she didn’t like Jorick’s company, but she needed to talk to about how abnormal the vampires’ world was, and Jorick just didn’t understand.

The day passed. Though the sun hung high in the sky, the weather stayed cold as she drove from one state to another. Pennsylvania seemed the coldest. Maybe because it was nearly sundown by the time she crossed the border.

She turned off the highway and into a broad parking lot. Signs on the dilapidated buildings promised an amazing antique experience. Apparently the shops hadn’t lived up to the hype because they stood vacant, occupied  only by shadows.

A shiver ran down her spine and her mind turned to macabre thoughts. Though she’d come to accept vampires and their world, childish fears still found their way through the veneer of her confidence.

She parked and leaned back in the seat. Outside, the last of the sun disappeared in a pool of purple and red. It was barely gone when one of the boxes banged open and Jorick came through the curtain, his eyes glinting with good humor. “Are we still in one piece?”

“Very funny. Of course we are.”

He kissed her, then dropped into the passenger seat and caught her hand in his cool fingers. “I knew you’d be fine.”

She shook out a cigarette and lit it, ignoring his arched eyebrows. “It was horrible. I spent eight hours terrified I’d get pulled over and they’d search the van. What would happen if they found you?”

“We’d have handled it.”

“How? You’d have been burned to cinders in the sunlight!”

“It isn’t instant vaporization.”

“No?” she asked, only semi-interested at the moment. “How long does it take?”

As if sensing her mood he answered, “Long enough.”

She puffed the cigarette and let the subject drop. “So what are we going to do with Kale? There are only two boxes, and Oren’s in a hurry to get back to his stupid war coven. He’ll probably want me to drive again.” As she said it, she prayed she didn’t have to. She couldn’t take the stress.

“I don’t know. We’ll cross that bridge once we get there.”

Oren’s box opened noisily. He stuck his head between the seats and picked up the conversation. “Until the sun rises, I imagine he’ll be in the back, with you.” His eyes landed pointedly on Katelina.

“No.” Jorick’s tone was hard. “I won’t have her alone with a vampire in need of blood. You know what that can be like.”

Oren sniffed and Katelina got the impression that he didn’t. “Of course. As you said, we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”

“Speaking of blood, I’m hungry.” Jorick smirked at Katelina’s horrified expression. “We’d better feed while we have the chance.”

The two vampires climbed out of the van. Katelina finished her cigarette and patted the dashboard fondly. “Good luck with Oren.”

She was seated in the back when the vampires returned. Jorick dropped next to her on the wooden box and slipped an arm around her shoulders. She leaned into him and yawned. She hadn’t really slept the night before, thanks to Alistair, a vampire who’d attacked them.

“Go to sleep,” Jorick said softly. “You can lay down in one of the boxes if you want.”

She jerked awake. “No thanks! You know I don’t like that.”

He chuckled. “It’s just a suggestion.”

“Thanks, but no thanks.” She relaxed again. Sleeping in a box was a little too much like being a vampire. She spent time with them, but she didn’t want to join their ranks. At least not yet.

Not yet.

That was another disturbing idea. Like so many others, she let it drift away. Someday, she’d have to deal with all those ideas, but now wasn’t the time.

“Get some rest,” Jorick said softly.

With a final yawn, she did.

Jorick woke her several hours later. She rubbed her eyes sleepily and asked what time it was.

“Nearly one, which should be plenty of time.” As an afterthought Jorick added, “We’re here.”

The back door of the van opened and Oren leaned in, scowling. “Hectia isn’t here.”

Hectia. The name was only semi-familiar to Katelina, and conjured an image of a dark haired vampiress with a childish temperament. Like so many of Jorick and Oren’s relationships in the vampire world, the one with Hectia was tenuous and crisscrossed with lies and carefully balanced politics. A former enemy of Oren’s, Hectia believed she owed him now that her master was dead. She didn’t really, but Katelina wasn’t going to tell her that.

“Maybe she’s late?” Jorick climbed out into the snow. “She did agree to help?”

“After a fashion. She was supposed to bring someone who could disable the security system.”

The two vampires moved away and Katelina followed uncertainly. They stopped a few feet away and frowned at an old brick building. Antique cornices and stone work accentuated the four floors. Dark, blank windows stared like empty eyes. The building sat back from the street in the center of a little square of snowy lawn, surrounded by skeletal trees and orange tinted streetlights. The neighboring buildings were just as old: large, dark houses and a sleepy church. The air hung heavy with eerie winter silence.

It wasn’t what Katelina had imagined. “You’re sure this is it?”

Jorick pointed to a wooden sign that proclaimed, “Michigan Institute of Supernatural and Unexplained Sciences”.

“Apparently.”

“I thought it would be more high-tech. You know, white walls, lots of glass, an eye scanner.”

Oren checked his watch impatiently. “Hectia obviously isn’t going to show up. I suggest we cut the power. That should get rid of any alarm system.”

Katelina rolled her eyes. “Great idea, except alarms have a battery backup.”

“And how do you know about building security?” Oren asked coldly

“The newspaper office where I worked had an alarm system! Most businesses do, you know!” Before she could berate Oren further, an idea struck her. “But not upstairs… my boss said it was a waste of money because people can’t get through a third story window – but you two could!” She pointed to the upper stories. “I bet they don’t have any alarms up there, either.”

Jorick smiled and laid a hand on her shoulder. “You’re probably right. From the looks of it, this institute doesn’t have much funding. I’m sure they cut corners where they can.”

“And what if they haven’t? This is an institute for the paranormal. Surely they’d know our abilities?” Oren met Jorick’s eyes and held them.

“I doubt the idiots running this place have any concept of us, or our abilities. If they did, they’d have a better facility.”

Oren’s only reply was, “They have Kale.”

Jorick brushed the comment aside and turned to Katelina. “Do you remember anything else about the alarm system?”

“It had a keypad just inside the door, but I didn’t know the code. Once, Mr. Fordrent didn’t show up for work, so the secretary had to let us in. After the door opened, she couldn’t remember the code and the system called the security company. The cops and a guard showed up.”

Jorick nodded. “It sounds like we either chance the window or wait for Hectia and her friend.”

Oren growled low in his throat. His eyes snapped to the building “All right, we’ll try it, but I don’t like it.”

Jorick turned to Katelina. “You should stay in the van. I don’t know what we’ll find in there, or what condition Kale is in. It might be best to keep temptation away.”

She didn’t like the implication in his words, but she liked waiting alone even less. “Anyone could show up! What then?”

Jorick shifted from one foot to the other and Oren gave a disgusted grunt. “Oh, take her. But if she gets in the way, I won’t hesitate to leave her.”

Jorick’s dark head snapped up. “No, you won’t.”

They walked to the building. The two vampires examined it and then nodded in unison, as if they’d agreed on an unspoken conclusion. “I’ll go first.” Oren glanced at Katelina. “Since I’m not… encumbered.”

He crouched low, so that his fingertips brushed the sidewalk, then sprung upwards and caught one of the windows on the second story. Jorick had once helped Katelina break into her old apartment by jumping up the building.  Though she’d thought it was terrifying at the time, it was even worse when she could see it in the third person.

At the fourth floor, Oren easily swung onto one of the wide windowsills. Katelina watched with trepidation as he straightened and worked on the window. Like the feline he resembled, he seemed perfectly at home, despite the dizzying height.

The lock clicked. The sound echoed in the heavy air and Katelina tensed. She saw Jorick’s eyes shoot around the perimeter, as if seeking observers, but there were none.

Oren looked to them with an expression that said “this is it”. Then, he raised the window. They caught their breath, waiting. They didn’t hear an alarm, only the winter wind whistling through the naked trees. With a satisfied nod to his accomplices, Oren dropped inside.

Jorick offered Katelina a smile. “It’s our turn now, little one.” He swept her to him with one arm. “Hold on.” Then he leapt. She smashed her eyes shut and swallowed back a scream as the ground fell away. She didn’t want to see this.

Though she didn’t look, she could feel him spring from floor to floor. Each hop made her stomach tighten. She clutched him tightly and imagined slipping from his grasp and plummeting to the sidewalk below.

Then they stopped. She opened her eyes just as Jorick dropped her into the window. Oren clutched a handful of her coat, which kept her from falling to the floor, but did little else. She used the wall to pull herself upright and sent him a dark look.

He hissed at Jorick, “Are you coming?”

The raven haired vampire held up a finger, his body tense and his eyes on the ground.

“What is it?” Oren asked with alarm. Instead of answering, Jorick disappeared, no doubt dropping down to investigate.

Oren swore under his breath and pulled Katelina to the floor. She jerked loose and he held a finger to his lips. Something in his eyes dared her to make a sound.

Her ears strained in the silence. All she could hear was her heart hammering and, from her position on the floor, all she could see through the window was the tree tops and a shivering moon.

Moments ticked by. Unvoiced horrors screamed through her mind. Were the police there? Was it a security guard? Had The Guild sent a squad of Executioners? Had a blood crazed Kale escaped his prison?

Suddenly a face appeared at the window. She choked the scream into a squeal and flung herself backwards into a pile of boxes. Oren jumped, but caught himself at the last moment. It was only Jorick.

The dark haired vampire swung inside, an amused smile on his lips. He offered Katelina a hand up. “Are you all right?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. So what was it?”

“Hectia, and she brought her friend. Jordan, I believe. I told them to work on the alarm and that we’ll meet them outside once we have Kale.”

“Good,” Oren said. “Let’s go.”

Jorick squeezed Katelina’s hand. Though she refused to voice her anxiety, it was there, hiding under her fake calm. No doubt he could see it in her mind. Another of his vampire abilities.

Oren led them into a dark echoing hallway lined with doors. Boxes peered at them from storage rooms, some labeled in tidy black letters. Katelina wished there was time to peek inside them. She didn’t believe in aliens, Bigfoot or the other monsters, but if vampires were real, what else was? The institute had captured Kale. What other creatures had they collected? What information was stored away, laughed at by all but those who’d experienced it?

Their secrets remained their own. She and Jorick followed Oren down a narrow flight of stairs to the third floor. It was set up the same, though the doors that lined the hallway were locked. Signs said things like “References”, “Resources” and “Interview Room”. Though the last one made Katelina pause, Jorick tugged her along before she could examine it.

The second floor held offices, each one neatly labeled. They stopped before a door with a familiar name: Dr. Noah C. Miley.

“This is the man in the article?” Oren asked.

As if to prove how badly organized they were, Jorick tugged a piece of newsprint from his pocket; an article taken from a tabloid. Katelina remembered the contents. There was a photo of Kale, his fangs bared, and Dr. Miley’s comments that he planned to do research on the captured vampire that could “change the course of human history.” The idea still made her shiver.

Oren peered at the door. “Kale will be in a basement, but the doctor’s research may be in here.”

Jorick nodded. “You check it out and we’ll find Kale. They have my fingerprints, not yours.”

As they moved away, Katelina whispered, “There is no ‘they’ who have your fingerprints. They’re just in a database.”

“Yes, a police database. I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be arrested – again.” The look he shot her implied it might have been her fault that it happened the first time. It had been her idea to visit her mother, but she wasn’t the one who’d called the cops. That had been Verchiel. Maybe that had something to do with why Jorick hated him.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t think they’d arrest you without evidence.”

“If I recall, they thought they had evidence. A dead body, a kidnapped woman.”

“But you didn’t kill Patrick, and I wasn’t kidnapped.”

“I know that, and you know that, but they didn’t.” He softened. “It doesn’t matter. What’s done is done.”

With nothing else to say, they found the first floor lobby in silence. Light shone through a set of glass doors and splashed shadows across the floor. Jorick glanced through them and nodded to someone who stood outside in the darkness.

“The alarms have been disabled. I knew that Hectia and her flare for turning everyone she meets would come in handy.”

At the back of the lobby was a locked wooden door. Without a hint of remorse, Jorick kicked it in. He led Katelina to the room beyond where they found another door. Despite her objections, he kicked it, too. They moved from room to room, leaving a path of destruction behind, until they came to a door that didn’t give immediately. Jorick knocked on it and considered the sound. “Interesting.” Before she could ask what was interesting, he kicked a hole into it and peeled away the wood to reveal a heavy metal door underneath.

“You’re not planning to just kick that one?”

“Actually…” He winked at her and gave it a solid kick in the center. The door bent. A second kick made it buckle so that he could swing it open with some effort.

Super vampire strength.

They followed a set of stairs to a cement room rimmed in metal doors and security lights. Yellow caution stripes were painted on the walls and block letters announced “Authorized Personnel Only,” and “Warning: Dangerous Specimens”.

Jorick surveyed the words. “Either they had high hopes or Kale isn’t their first brush with a nonhuman entity.”

“You don’t really think so? Not in Michigan?”

He shrugged and sniffed for Kale’s scent. Katelina still wasn’t used to the idea that vampires could smell one another, or that they had a sort of sixth sense that told them when someone was nearby. But then there were a lot of things she wasn’t used to.

“Ah.”

Katelina followed Jorick’s gaze. The door at the back of the room was covered in diamond shaped warning labels. If not for the seriousness of the situation, they would have been comical. One had an injured hand with blood dripping from it crossed out, while a second showed a pair of swirly eyes and warned against “vampire hypnosis”. A third showed the black silhouette of a human head with large white fangs where the mouth belonged. “Warning: Vampires may be more dangerous than they appear. Exercise caution at all times”.

“My God, Jorick, where would they get a sticker like that?”

“I don’t know. Perhaps they made it.” He ran his hand around the door and then, with a shrug, tried the handle. It swung open on silent hinges. “Someone forgot to lock up.” Though he joked, his eyes held guarded caution.

There was a switch just inside the door. Jorick pressed it and fluorescent tube lights snapped to life, illuminating another cement room with yellow and red warnings. The middle of the back wall was thick plexiglass, like a window in a zoo cage. Inside, she could see Kale. He stood with his palms pressed against the glass. If she hadn’t known who it was, she might not have recognized him. His blonde hair hung limp around his haggard face and his skin cleaved to his bones. She knew the cause: lack of blood. She’d seen the effects before, though they had been worse.

Kale regarded them with a mixture of curiosity and animosity. His eyes glittered dangerously in his shrunken face, and Katelina thought of Jorick’s warnings. Maybe she should have stayed in the van.

Jorick approached the trapped vampire and rapped on the plexiglass with his knuckles. Kale tapped back, but they couldn’t hear the sound.

A red button was on the wall to the right, below what looked like a speaker. Jorick pressed it. “Kale?”

The vampire inside nodded vigorously and tapped the glass again. Apparently it wasn’t a speaker, but a microphone.

“We’re going to get you out,” Jorick said simply.

Kale nodded again and the animosity in his eyes turned to hope.

Oren walked through the door and looked from one to the other. “The alarms?”

“Disabled.”

Oren nodded towards Kale. “He’s been here since the twelfth, or that’s what the doctor wrote on his applications for research grants.”

Katelina did mental calculations. That was only nine days ago. They’d just seen him at The Guild’s citadel a day or two before that. He’d been kidnapped almost the minute he got home!

“I imagine all of the actual research is down here,” Oren continued as his eyes made a circle of the room. “It seems uncannily well prepared.”

Jorick sounded tense, “I’ve been thinking the same thing. Either they’ve had a vampire in captivity before or-”

“Or someone who knows too much helped them,” Oren finished.

Jorick nodded and moved back to the plexiglass wall. To the left was a door covered in warnings and red letters. Beside it was a keypad and slot to swipe a keycard. He studied both and commented, “It’s odd that there’s no guard on duty.”

“Yes. It’s too quiet and everything has been too easy.”

“Unless they aren’t expecting a rescue. They could be under the impression that vampires are just wild animals.” Jorick’s nose wrinkled in disgust. “It wouldn’t be a new idea.” He rapped on the glass again. “The question is, how to get to Kale. Obviously the wall is strong enough to hold him in and us out.”

Oren cocked his head. ”Maybe. Kale isn’t much older than I am, but you’re older and stronger than both of us.”

While they discussed the next move, Katelina examined their surroundings. One side of the room was occupied by a bank of cupboards and counters. She opened them to find rubber gloves, masks, and heavy white over gowns. There were also several glass containers and pointy silver instruments that seemed better suited to a surgery center. Then, on the back of one of the doors she noticed a keycard on a silver ring. She snagged it from the hook and held it up. “Maybe this would help?”

Oren snatched it from her and strode towards the door. Kale nodded enthusiastically and mouthed something they couldn’t hear. Oren swiped the card and a tiny beep sounded. He reached for the door handle. Kale suddenly shook his head emphatically. Before anyone noticed his reaction, the door was open and a high pitched alarm screamed.

“The code!” Kale shouted as he burst through the door and gestured to the keypad. “You have to swipe the card and type a code in!”

Oren swore loudly and Jorick shouted back, “What’s the code?”

“I don’t know!” Kale’s wide eyes shot around the room. “Forget it! Let’s get out of here!”

Jorick hesitated and then agreed. He hurried to Katelina and flung her over his shoulder. She shouted that she had feet, but he ignored her and raced through the door, Kale on his heels. Oren stayed behind. As they ran for the stairs, she could hear the sound of smashing glass.

They dashed through the empty building and burst through the front doors and into the night. Jorick ran much faster than Katelina could have gone on her own, Kale keeping pace. They’d almost reached the van when wailing sirens and flashing lights came into view.

Hectia suddenly stepped into the light. She was wearing the same swishy coat Katelina had last seen her in, though the dark woman at her side was new. “It’s the police! I didn’t agree to this!”

“Then go!” Jorick jerked the van’s driver door open and shoved Katelina inside like a sack of contraband. “The last thing we need is a fledgling, anyway!”

“That fledgling just helped you!” Hectia shrieked, but she swallowed further argument and grabbed the young woman’s arm. “Come on Jordan, they’re on their own now.”

Jorick’s attention was drawn to the cop car that squealed to a stop. The doors popped open and, like pastry from a toaster, two cops followed, their guns out, the doors in front of them like shields.

“Step away from the vehicle and put your hands up!” One of them leveled his weapon at Jorick and Kale.

Katelina whimpered, but Jorick only forced her deeper into the cab. “Be quiet and stay down!”

The officer shouted his instructions again and Jorick raised his hands. He met Kale’s eyes, as if to impart some secret plan. Instead of doing as instructed, Kale bound towards the policeman, snarling. The cop yelled again, his voice high with fear and his gun shaking in his terrified hands.

The emaciated vampire crashed into the passenger door of the cop car. Gun shots echoed over the screaming alarm and the sirens. Kale’s body jerked at the impact of bullets, and he stumbled backwards. The cop stepped forward, confidence in his eyes, but Kale pulled himself straight and let loose a howl of inhuman rage. He grabbed the car door and ripped it away as though it weighed nothing. The cop screamed and more shots followed. They did nothing to stop Kale. In a single, swift motion he pinned the cop against the car and tore into his throat with his fangs.

Katelina covered her face with her hands. She could hear the second policeman screaming and shouting for back up, his words a tumbled confusion of fear and disbelief. His babble melted into a shriek and she looked to see that Oren was suddenly there. He slammed the policeman’s head into the car. His lips curled back from his fangs as he snapped his neck.

Oren dropped the body to the snow and turned towards the van as a second car came screeching to a halt some distance away. The doors opened and three more policemen leapt out, their weapons drawn. Without warning, they fired wildly. Few of the bullets hit their mark, and those that did were little more than annoyances.

Katelina stared with wide, horrified eyes. How had it all gone wrong? How had the cops gotten there that fast? She sought Jorick in the bedlam, and wished she hadn’t. He’d come up behind the new arrivals and she watched as he silently pounced. He crushed the first cop’s throat while a second policeman bombarded him with a terrified spattering of bullets. Jorick shouted in anger and grabbed him. He wrenched the gun from his hand and threw it away. Then he slammed the man to the ground. Though Katelina hid her eyes, the policeman’s screams burned in her ears.

The last shrieks died away and she heard Jorick shout, “Get to the van!”

She looked and again wished she hadn’t. Jorick stood in the bloody snow, holding the limp body of the third cop. Oren and Kale ran towards her. Blood dripped down Kale’s chin and soaked the front of his shirt.

The sound of a third approaching car roared louder with each second. Katelina threw herself out of the way as Kale leapt inside. He bounded off the passenger seat and then rolled through the curtain into the relative safety of the back. Oren was right behind him, leaping into the driver’s seat and slamming the keys into the ignition.

A canary yellow sports car tore around the corner and only missed taking off the van’s door by inches as it slid to a stop next to them. Katelina immediately recognized the car, and the redheaded vampire who bounded out of it. It was Verchiel, the Executioner that Jorick hated.

As if to demonstrate his own vampire skills, one minute Verchiel was next to the van and the next he was practically in it, leaning over Oren with a broad, fanged grin on his face. “Making a mess are we?”

Oren’s eyes bulged. “What in the hell are you doing here?”

“Let’s call it a race, and I won. Look! There’s little Kately! How are you? Not injured, I hope?”

“That’s not my name!” He insisted on calling her that since he’d overheard her mother do it.

Jorick was suddenly there. He grabbed Verchiel and spun him away, slamming him into the van. “You!”

“Well hello! Nice to see you again!” Verchiel let his eyes focus on the carnage behind Jorick. “I see now why they call you The Hand of Death, but really, isn’t this a little sloppy?”

Jorick roared and Verchiel laughed. “I suppose you’ve got him already?” He leveled his gaze with Jorick’s. “I suggest you get out of here as fast as that thing can go. There are more cops on the way and you might be interested to know that Senya and a few of her closest acquaintances should be here any minute to bust your friend out of ‘captivity’.”

Senya. The cruelest of the Executioners, just the thought of her filled Katelina with terror.

Jorick’s face twitched. He wordlessly tossed Verchiel aside and climbed into the van. The motor roared and Oren slammed the vehicle into gear. Katelina had a final glimpse of the redheaded Executioner waving cheerfully before they rounded the corner and he disappeared from sight.

<PROLOGUE

CHAPTER 1

CHAPTER 2 >>

CHAPTER 3 >>>

Ashes of Deceit: Prologue

PROLOGUE

CHAPTER 1>

CHAPTER 2 >>

CHAPTER 3 >>>

Taking Over Reena’s Blog!

Okay, I haven;t really taken it over, but Reena Jacobs, author of the intriguing Shadow Cat, has been kind enough to feature and excerpt from Legacy of Ghosts on her blog.

pooling blood

By me

“It was a nightmare.

Blood; there was blood everywhere -“

To read the rest check out her blog and be sure to leave a comment! 

Also, look for an interview with yours truly on the fifth of this month!

Shadow Cat – Reena Jacobs

This is an excerpt of Shadow Cat, the Fantasy Romance by Reena Jacobs. Available at Amazon.com

Eric knelt on both knees and leaned over the plant, careful to “look but don’t touch,”as his friend had warned. An insect floated in the fluid, thrashing its thin legs in a frenzied fight for life. Not a minute passed and the insect stilled, tipping to the side.
Eric sat on his heels and reflected on the gruesome finality of living in the jungles. Interesting to visit but not a place he’d choose to live. Already he tired of the forest scene. He’d leave the role of nature lover to the researchers. As for him, one typical day in the office provided more than enough excitement.

Still, the fluid might have medicinal properties or the entire plant for that matter. Just one breakthrough and it’d make the money invested in the Malaysian venture worth all the effort, bringing his company back in the black.

A movement caught his eyes as he stood. He stared at the flowers of a yellow tree, hoping to catch the motion again. He’d learned the rainforest was full of wonders if he kept his eyes opened and remained patient. There! Hidden in the tree, a black and orange corded object waved, the colors camouflaged by the profuse foliage.

He squinted and followed the thick line to its source, but lost track of it behind a concentrated stretch of leaves. He did a double take. Where did she come from?

The faint light flickering through the tree cast a glow on the exquisite bronze skin of a woman lounging on a limb, while the dense leaves concealed her legs completely. She licked her full lips, a pinkish brown, which were made for kissing. Malaysian characteristics dominated her face—high cheekbones with a slight blush. Thick, untamed brows arched high. Beautiful. Straight tresses lifted in the breeze—strawberry blond with streaks of dark brown and copper, as well as a shade so light it appeared white. Her features combined with her distinctive hair hinted to a mixed ancestry. The contrast was spectacular against her honey-colored skin. A light brown, halter-like bra covered her full breasts, allowing just a hint of the fleshy mounds to peak over the top. The yellow flowers provided the perfect disguise for her.

She rose from her recline and stood on the branch, balancing on bare and dainty feet with cute, kissable toes. He traced the shape of her legs, toned and lithe, which seemed to travel forever before disappearing behind an obtrusive bit of vegetation.

She dropped from the tree.

“No.” He reached out as his stomach plummeted with her fall.

The woman landed ten feet below in a crouch, a pitiful scrap of loincloth brushing the ground between her legs.
His brain cranked into gear. She’s okay. His heart beat so hard, it threatened to jump out of his chest. Even his run had not gotten him so excited.

She rose from her squat and approached. Her bare hips flared and narrowed toward the contours of her waist, while the indentation of her belly-button tantalized him.

Already working overtime, his heart rushed blood straight to his groin as it pulsated to the rhythm of her swaying breasts. Entranced, he wondered if the nipples creating points in the thin fabric corresponded with the color of her lips. His jeans tightened, and he resisted the urge to adjust himself as the woman sauntered ever closer, stalking him like prey, assessing him with eyes the color of an amber sunrise.

He smiled at the sultry advance of the curvaceous female. I can definitely work with this. She appeared fearless as she came within arm’s reach, and her feminine scent washed over him, a combination of cool mint and fresh rain. Enticing. Quite tall for Malaysian standards or any woman in general for that matter, she stood about a half foot shorter than Eric. No doubt she’d mold seamlessly to him.

She cocked her head to the side. As if in a dream, time slowed. The wind teased her hair, and the silky strands floated and caressed her shoulders.

Spellbound by the fascinating colors, he lifted his hand. A simple touch. Nothing more. So close. “Heavenly.”

With lightning speed, she batted him away.

He jerked back and gritted his teeth against the pain. A throbbing sensation gave way to a stinging burn, and he cringed at the four deep gashes lining the back of his hand. If the damned thing weren’t attached to his wrist, he wouldn’t recognize it as his own.

“Stupid, stupid—what was I thinking? Damn it,” he said between clenched teeth. “Look but don’t touch, Eric. Look. But don’t touch.”

**********

Bio: Reena Jacobs is just your typical writer who loves to see her words in print. As an avid reader, she’s known to hoard books and begs her husband regularly for “just one more purchase.” Her home life is filled with days chasing her preschooler and nights harassing her husband. Between it all, she squeezes in time for writing and growling at the dog. You can find Reena on Ramblings of an Amateur Writer, Amazon, Goodreads, and Smashwords.

Website: http://www.reenajacobs.com
Blog: http://www.reenajacobs.com/blog
Twitter http://twitter.com/ReenaJacobs

Author Excerpts

because I enjoyed them so much, I’ve decided to continue the author excerpts year round.  So, in the spirit of spreading the indie author love, I’ll occasionally post excerpts of other authors work. If you’re interested in being featured then please send an excerpt between 500 – 1,000 words, an author bio, links where readers can buy your book, your website or blog link and, if you like, a book cover and/or short blurb about your book to Joleene (at) JoleeneNaylor.com.  Excerpts will be posted on a first come, first serve basis.

If you need some advice about how to choose your excerpt, Edie Ramer has a great article with plenty of advice that you should check out!

What genres am I accepting? Any genre, really. Though I write primarily paranormal romance/thrillers, I have a varied audience. Strong language, hot scenes, and violence are all accepted.

  • A Year of Short Stories

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