“This place is off the chain, Laney! Holy beefcakes! Just look at all that man candy! Every size and flavor.” Eve Kent licked her lips, practically bouncing in her seat in the VIP lounge. “Some friend, keeping this to yourself.” Lane Alden matched Eve’s grin. “It’s an underground vampire club for a reason, Evie. We know what’s what, but the rest of the world?” She shook her head. “Not so much, and the undead want to keep it that way. A secret in plain sight. Technically, we’re not even supposed to be here.” On the surface, the Red Veil was a trendy hangout for A-listers and wannabes who liked to think they lived on the edge. A mix of raw fantasy and kickass music wrapped in a big Goth bow. In truth it was also the seat of New York’s Vampire Council, but that knowledge was on a need to know basis. A tidbit most hadn’t a clue. “I never realized vampires were so…so…” Eve trailed off, craning her neck for a better view of the main floor. “Tempting?” Lane replied with a laugh. “Close your mouth, Eve, you’re drooling.”
With a sheepish chuckle, she wiped the corner of her mouth with the back of her hand. “Can you blame me? Talk about looking like you walked off the pages of a magazine.” She took a quick breath. “I mean, I know the club is crawling with celebrity impersonators just for fun, but Holy Cinemascope! James Dean and Marlon Brando! Where did they find them?” Lane wrapped her hand around her frosted mug and followed Eve’s line of sight. “They’re pretty amazing, but they’re not impersonators.” Eve pulled her eyes from the crowd, her mouth dropping. “Wait, are you saying—” “Yup.” Skeptical, Eve slid her gaze to the 50s icons again, before zeroing in on another celeb. “So, you’re telling me, Patrick Swayze over there—” She gave a slow chin pop toward the end of the bar. “Mr. Dirty Dancing himself. He’s the real deal? Big as life and thirty feet away from where we sit?” “Depends on how you define life, but otherwise—” Lane nodded. “They are the original stars, with one major exception. They now drink blood to survive.” Eve blinked, stunned. Lane lifted her drink toward her lips. “A bit of a shocker, I know. Back in the day, the Vampire Supreme was a huge movie buff. Intervention was a purely selfish move on his part, but when his
favorite stars got sick or had a fatal accident, he made them an offer they couldn’t refuse.” “Refuse? When you’ve got an indiscernible pulse, and you’re lying on a slab with a tag on your toe, it’s not a time to be choosy.” Eve snorted. Lane sipped her drink. “Sure, it is. But vampires don’t worry about annoying credos the way we do.” “An it harm none, do as ye will.” Eve’s reply was a rote whisper. “Exactly. Plus, the concept of personal gain isn’t a problem for the undead, either. Still, it’s kind of cool knowing our pop icons aren’t really gone. Speaking of which, I ran into Alan Rickman a couple of months ago.” Eve exhaled a wistful sigh. “After all this time? Always.” “I love that.” “Me, too.” Eve nodded, finishing what was left of her martini. “Still, an undead Professor Snape is something I could believe.” She paused holding the stem of her glass. “Laney, you said the ‘Vampire Supreme.’ Did you mean Sebastién DuLac? The one who just died?” Lane bobbed her head. “Sebastién was a giant, condescending prick, but he was also a closet redcarpet groupie.” She shrugged again. “Rubbing elbows with the elite fed his ego. Human or supernatural, he collected them. Especially if they
had an ability he envied or found fascinating. He befriended Sean Leighton, Alpha of the Brethren of Were, just to get to his mate. Lily is a psychic, but Sebastién was convinced she could walk between worlds.” “Like between the living and the dead, or between our plane and Faerie?” “Between the living and the dead,” Lane replied, “but I wouldn’t be surprised if he thought Lily could waltz into the Fae realm unhindered.” “Did Sebastién get her, or did the alpha rip him to shreds?” Lane smirked at the gossipy look on Eve’s face. “Sean Leighton is a powerful alpha, and the hottest shifter I’ve met, but Lily can hold her own. Sebastién couldn’t lay a finger on her.” Eve slid her gaze back toward the bar. “Do you think he might—” Eve shook her head, not finishing her thought. “Who might what?” Lane asked with a smirk. She shook her head again. “Forget it. He’s Dirty Dancing’s Johnny Castle, and I’m a chubby witch with mousy brown hair and ordinary brown eyes.” “Evie, stop that.” “Laney, I’ve spent so much time cooped up in the motherhouse library, my ass now has its own zip code. If it wasn’t for the rush of blood through my veins, my pasty skin could pass for undead. Hell, I’m surprised I don’t hiss at daylight.” She
offered a soft shrug. “I’m not like you. You’re fair and willowy. Members of the Circle of the Raven may be Fae-kissed, but I must have been absent when they handed out the look.” Eve crooked her fingers into quotes. “You don’t give yourself enough credit, Evie. Forget dirty dancing with the vampires. Half the time the trace amount of Fae blood in our veins is too much of a distraction. They can’t help themselves. Shifters on the other hand are a different story. “You’re a pretty girl, with just the right curves to drive the fanged and furry set wild. Focus on them. They love a little meat on the bone. As for your hair, it’s a rich chestnut, and your eyes are more amber than brown.” Laney reached for her friend’s hand. “I mean it, Evie. No more selfdeprecating. You’re a Blood Witch about to join the Circle of the Raven, and we’re a picky bunch of witchy bitches. Roll with that.” Eve sniffed, giving Laney a weedy smile. “At least I don’t have pencils stuck in a messy bun or my nose in a book.” “Exactly. Now let go and relax. We’re here to have fun. I’d say be careful, but you and I have nothing to worry about. At least not with the undead set. Vampires might have a hard time resisting our blood, but unless they want to chance the inherent risk, I think we’re safe.”
“What do you mean?” Lane considered her friend. “Truth is, witch blood is poisonous to some vampires. It’s a double whammy with Fae-kissed witches, because our blood is inherently alluring. Almost a drug. A plus for being a Raven if push came to shove in a dark alley.” “How come this isn’t in any book I’ve studied? Believe me, I’ve combed through plenty.” “There isn’t a spell for everything, Eve. We learn through trial and error. Witches need to adapt quickly. To cast on the fly and conjure when needed. Your initiation into the Circle of the Raven and our motherhouse is only the beginning. “Anyway, I’m glad the Red Veil meets with your approval. Just remember, when it comes to the icy hot vampires, you look but don’t touch. Like I said, Weres and shifters are a different story.” Lane winked, turning an eye toward a sexy, wideshouldered Were at the other end of the bar. “Touch all you want, as often as you want.” The crowd was thick and animated as they overlooked the main floor. A server approached with a smile and a small round tray. “Can I get you ladies another drink?” Lane nodded, draining the last of her mug. “I’ll have another Moscow Mule. Extra ginger and lime this time.”
“That one’s my favorite,” she said, before turning to Eve. “And you?” “I’ll try a dirty martini this time.” She rubbed her hands together. “Three olives and heavy on the dirty.” The server grinned. “Got it. Coming right up, but I’ll have to see some I.D. first.” “I showed the other server when we first ordered.” The server shrugged. “House rules. Sorry.” Eve grumbled, fishing in her purse. “I can’t wait until they don’t ask anymore.” “Yes, you can.” Laney shook her head with a chuckle. “Trust me, it’s as bad as the first day you get called ma’am.” The server looked at Eve’s driver’s license and then handed it back with another nod. “Thanks. I’ll be right back with your drinks.” “Why couldn’t you put the whammy on her the way you did the VIP bouncer?” Lane glanced over her shoulder at the tall Were manning the velvet rope. “Because, proving you’re over twenty-one is simple. Getting into the VIP section of the Red Veil, not so much.” She smoothed the fresh napkin in front of her. “Magic is all about balance, Evie, and just because you can, doesn’t always mean you should. The warning for witches about magic for personal gain is true, to a certain extent.”
“So, getting the bouncer to let us into the VIP section isn’t personal gain?” Lane grinned. “Okay, so I bent the rules a little with that, big deal. I’ve been here a lot this past year. Is it my fault the bouncer recognized me? Technically, he allowed the perk.” “Yeah, right. With a little help from a handy compulsion spell. Was that what you meant about casting on the fly?” “Wiseass.” Lane smirked at the young witch. The server came back with their drinks, setting them on the table. “This round is on the house.” She turned with a grin toward the bouncer at the bottom of the stairs. “You must have made quite an impression on Kyle. He’s usually so tight with money, he squeaks.” Eve stifled a snicker and Lane shot her a look. “Tell him we said thank you, and we’ll catch up with him later.” The server walked away, and Lane turned to make eye contact with the bouncer. “Watch and learn, little girl.” Lane circled her hand in a small clockwise orbit, muttering in Latin under her breath. She maintained eye contact with Kyle, and in seconds he blinked as though confused, and then looked away. “And that’s how it’s done. No harm, no foul.” Lane picked up her drink, clicking her tongue. “Sometimes it’s good to be a witch.”
No sooner had the words left her mouth, than heat scorched her lungs. Her hand flew to her chest and she sucked in a painful breath. “You okay?” Eve asked, lowering her drink. Vertigo gripped hard and fast and she dropped her drink, fumbling for the edge of the table, taking short, sharp breaths. “Lane!” Eve pushed back in her chair. “Help! Someone!” The server rushed over, and they both moved to either side of Lane’s chair. “What’s the matter?” she asked. “I don’t know. She was fine a moment ago.” The server spared a look for the bartender watching from the sidelines. “Maybe we should call an ambulance. Is she allergic to anything? Asthmatic? Did she take…something?” “She’s not a druggie,” Eve shot back, wrapping a hand around Lane’s shoulder. “She’s a witch, like you’re a shifter, so help me get her out of this crowd so we can figure out what’s happening.” The server straightened, surprised. “A witch? You’re not supposed to—” “Not supposed to what?” She glared up at the woman. “Are you going to help, or just stand pointless and watch?” The woman scrambled, taking Lane’s other arm. “Of course. Sorry,” she replied. “The manager’s office has a couch. Follow me.”
Lane squeezed her eyes closed, ignoring the squabbling women. Something or someone in the club was messing with her senses. But why? Clearing her mind, she focused on her breathing. In, out. In, out, until the vertigo ebbed. The music pulse still vibrated on her skin, and the air was thick as it skimmed her body, but she was in control. “C’mon, Laney. Let’s get you some place quiet with less nosy parkers.” Eve hooked her arm inside Lane’s elbow, but Lane shook her head. She exhaled and then opened her eyes. “Give me a minute, Eve. I’m okay.” Vodka and melting ice dripped off the edge of the table, chilling her fingers, and she let go for a moment only to grab hold again when she tried to stand. “That’s it. You need some fresh air and that means we’re outta here. I’m calling an Uber.” Lane dragged in a steadying breath. “It’s passing. Truly.” “Do you want me to call someone for you?” the server asked. The three stood in the middle of a not so oblivious crowd. Lane shook her head again, letting go of the table for good. “Thanks, but that’s not necessary. I’m okay.” Lane took another breath. “It’s probably a backlash for tipping the VIP scales and then being so glib about it.”
The server offered a tight smile, mopping up what was left of the spill. “I’ll bring you some fresh drinks.” Plopping the wet bar towel into Lane’s empty copper mug, she looked directly at Lane. “If you’re sure you’re okay.” “Yes, thanks. And a drink is just what the witch doctor ordered.” She offered the woman a quick smile. The server turned for the bar and Lane picked up Eve’s martini, gulping a deep sip. “Talk to me, Evie. Tell me how your studies are going. Anything.” She winced again, her hand going to her temple. “Any questions you want to ask?” Eve threw a wet, crumpled napkin at her friend. “Questions? Yeah, I’d say I have a few. Like what the hell happened? One minute you’re pulling a mind freak on the bouncer, and the next you’re holding on for dear life. I may be a coven initiate, but I’m not stupid. That was no mere backlash. I mean, you’re older and more skilled, but I can handle it. Tell me.” “Drink your martini, Eve.” She handed the younger witch her glass. “It was a backlash. I played fast and loose with our Wiccan rules and ignored the whole personal gain tenet. Karma is a toothy bitch, and this time she answered in real time.” “You think?” Eve smirked at her friend.
Lane flashed a sheepish grin, but her gut still churned. If that was a consequence for nerve, then why did it feel so slick? “I know you, Lane Alden, but I have no choice but to trust you. Just promise you’ll fess up if we head into real trouble or something.” “Deal.” She smiled at her friend, but uncertainty bit at her belly. If that oily spin was a karmic bitch-slap, then so be it. But if it wasn’t?
The server returned with two fresh drinks and put them on the table. Lane gave the woman a quick smile and then picked up her drink, eyeing the younger Raven. Eve had gone quiet, but her eyes said otherwise. “You look like you ‘ve got a question burning. You can ask me anything, Eve. Really.” “It’s stupid. Just forget it.” Lane sighed. “C’mon, Eve. You watched me take a karmic thump in public, and I’m the elder at this table.” Eve gave her a droll look. “Twenty-eight doesn’t qualify you for Crone, Laney.” “Very funny. Now spill.” Pulling her martini glass closer, she hesitated, smoothing the napkin under its stem. “Okay, but I told you it was stupid.” “I’m waiting.” “Do you think regular people sensed what was up with you? I mean, do they even know?” “Know what?”
Eve inched closer, lowering her voice. “That this place is for real. As in Original Gangstas. Fangs and all.” Eve bared her teeth with a Bela Lugosi style hiss, and Lane lost it, sputtering on her drink. She grabbed her napkin to clean her chin, laughing. “I told you it was stupid.” Eve made a face. Lane wiped her mouth and the front of her sleeve. “Oh, man. That was too funny. Still, I doubt vampires have ever been referred to as Original Gangstas, especially not when the Fae have owned the title since before time began.” “Witch 101. I get it. Dumb question.” Eve fidgeted with her napkin. “Every one of us has wondered the same thing from time to time. As clever as humans can be, they are still mired in a millennium of superstition and religious prejudice. They fear what they don’t understand and hate what they fear. Even amongst themselves. “So, as for your not-so-dumb question, if I had to venture a guess, it would be a hard no. I doubt regular people grasp the paranormal realities staring them in the face. Humans like to play with the idea of the supernatural, but most would freak if they knew what bellied up to the bar gauging their blood type.” Eve turned her gaze toward the dance floor. “Maybe they’d love knowing the supernatural
exists outside the movies. I mean, talk about a fantasy come true, and—” Her mouth dropped, clipping the rest of her words. “Oh, my goddess. I think my ovaries just exploded.” Lane chuckled, licking lime juice from her thumb. “Looks like the idea of fantasies coming true isn’t just for humans.” “Jeez. Is he for real?” Lane tracked Eve’s line of sight, watching a hunkie Were walk to the bar and order. “Oh, honey. That is very real.” “Be still my throbbing vagina.” Lane stifled a laugh. “Throbbing? Good word.” “Shut up, Lane. You should talk.” “No, I’m serious. The Red Veil is a place for guilty pleasures. The important thing is to be in the moment, right here, right now. Partake of all kinds, human and supernatural alike.” Eve licked her lips. “I’d like to partake of him, right here, right now.” Lane hid her smirk behind her mug’s copper rim. She couldn’t blame the girl’s open-mouthed stare. There were panty-dropping hotties everywhere you looked. Perhaps the Veil’s vampire owners planned it that way. A new strategy to lure in fresh blood. More bang for the fang. “People should take a walk on the wild side from time to time. You should go for it, Eve.”
The young witch jerked her eyes back to Lane. “And that’s code for what, exactly?” “To paraphrase Lady Gaga, when it comes to love, if it’s not rough it isn't fun.” She shrugged. “Keeps things interesting.” “I bet. From what I’ve seen so far, I’m sure it’s not hard to find a playmate.” Lane winked. “Easier still, if you have a certain magical skill set. Still, this isn’t just about finding a fuckboy for hot monkey sex. Some of the best underground bands play here before they hit it big. Plus, the Veil makes the best Moscow Mule in the city.” “Yeah, nice try.” “Seriously, Eve. Vampire lust aside, the club part of this place is straight up legit. Real bands, real booze, and real bouncers who love to get busy on anyone trying to color outside the lines. The undead allow plenty of tease, but no follow through when it comes to blood sport. At least not out in the open.” “Now that sounds interesting.” Eve scooted in, all ears. Lane shook her head. “Oh, c’mon. I know you know.” Lane shrugged, finishing her drink. “I do know, but that information is strictly on a need to know basis, and right now you don’t need to know.” She
paused, letting a slow grin curve. “At least not until after you pass your initiation, little Raven.” “Party pooper.” They relaxed into the night, finally comfortable enough to enjoy the music and foreplay-in-motion out on the dance floor. Lights flashed and the band went into a cover of The Cure’s “Love Song.” Eve bopped in her chair to the beat, singing low and off key with the rest of the crowd. The simple lyrics spoke quiet volumes. Home again. Whole again. Lane closed her eyes. Those were anchors that eluded her, despite her magic. She never quite fit. Anywhere. At least not fully. Not since— She shook her head, dismissing the regret threatening to kill her buzz. Not here. Not now. The Red Veil was her perfect escape. A blend of macabre and ethereal beauty wrapped in a veil of raw need. Its notorious backrooms were another story, though. They were by invitation only, and the only place on premises where people went to lose themselves between blurred erotic lines. She’d been lucky to participate a few times, but there was no chance in hell they’d let a Fae-kissed witch and a coven initiate through those wellguarded doors tonight. No matter how eager. Still, backlash or not, backrooms or not, Eve seemed to enjoy herself, and that was the point.
Lane lifted her empty mug in salute. “To the first of your many milestones, Eve—and to the Red Veil. Our little secret.” “Secret?” Eve pulled her martini back from the toast. “Why?” “Because it will cause a headache for me, and I don’t want to deal with a headache,” she explained without explaining No wonder Caitlan said this crop of initiates was more difficult than the ones any other year. Too many questions. “That makes no sense. Our coven is top heavy with females, Laney. And I don’t mean in a big titty city kind of way. The Circle of the Raven is New York’s motherhouse. As in the divine feminine. Read the subtext. It screams not enough men, in big capital letters.” “Don’t make me regret bringing you tonight, Eve. You’ve got to swear not to say a word to anyone. I’m serious. If Caitlan finds out I brought you here, forget guys hot enough to burn, she’ll break protocol and burn me at the stake. I’m already in her book as a bad influence. She’ll light the pyre with one angry look, and then dance on my ashes if she finds out.” Eve laughed. “Dramatic much? Caitlan’s not the kiss my ring type, so there must be a good reason you think she’d draw such a hard line. Maybe
something to do with a bad influence’s guilty pleasures?” “Good witch or bad, it doesn’t make what I said any less true. The undead that run this joint haven’t exactly welcomed our kind, but truces are forming between unlikely supernaturals all over the place. Just look at the tentative peace between the Weres and the vampires. So, I figured why not? “That truce was born out of literal necessity, Lane. HepZ was horrible. We’re lucky the outbreak didn’t reach the witchy community. It would have wiped us out in weeks. Being afraid of Caitlan and her rules or the club and its consequences are not the same thing.” So much for relaxing in VIP comfort. The club and its consequences? The witchling really hadn’t a clue. “You said you’ve been cooped up studying for weeks.” Lane tried a different tack. “Blood Witch Lore is no joke. Back in the day, the only thing that kept my nose in the books was the guarantee of free-range magic once I passed.” “I know, but—” The Circle of the Raven was the most powerful coven in New York, and the reason their supreme was no joke. Eve’s obstinance was fallout from the stress of her initiation, but she’d rather deal with a rebellious Raven than their angry supreme any day.
Caitlan, on the other hand, was slightly to the left of the Wicked Witch of the West when it came to initiates hitting the books. But all work and no play made for a sad practitioner. Eve needed a diversion. A two-legged and hung like a horse kind of diversion. Even if it meant taking Caitlan’s dagger-eyed stare. Eve went quiet again, watching the purple light cast shadows along the poured concrete dance floor. Ambient light set the club’s red boudoir feel to almost black. A perfect contrast to the bar’s shiny steel and chrome. “What does it feel like?” she asked, finally. “What does what feel like?” “To have all that power at your fingertips?” Lane dug for the lime at the bottom of her mug, plopping it in her mouth. She chewed on the tart fruit before putting the rind on her napkin. “You have power now, Eve. It’s part of your DNA. An initiation simply assures the coven you’re ready to wield it properly. Controlling your power instead of it controlling you. You’ll find out what I mean soon enough. In the meantime, why not put some of what you studied into practice?” “But—” “Pfft.” Lane dismissed the halfhearted argument. “You need a break, Eve. Why else do you think I risked my ass bringing you here, if not to try out some of your tricks?” She shrugged.
“Who’s going to know? And since I can’t stop you from blabbing, at least there’ll be something to show for my trouble.” “Wow, you make me sound like a brat.” “Well, if the broom fits, ride it.” “Hey!” Lane chuckled. “Seriously. Do something for yourself tonight. I would, if I were you. In fact, I have. Many, many times. That shifter at the bar is yours for the taking. Hell, if I can smell the pheromones pouring off you, you know he certainly does. “Well, Miss Ovaries Exploded? Do your stuff. Make eye contact and hold. Imagine the taste of his mouth. The way his fingers feel on your skin. Trust me, Eve. If you’re in control, tonight might be a night you never forget.” Eve spared a glance for the handsome Were. “You think? I’ve never done anything like this before. I mean, he’s definitely worth straddling six ways to Sunday, but—” “No buts. We’re not playing by the rules tonight. Focus your gaze and will him to turn. Once he does, he’s yours. Go for it.” Taking a breath, Eve nodded. She stared at the man’s back until his hand rose to the nape of his neck. When he turned, she locked eyes with his and mumbled a soft spell. In seconds, he picked up his drink and headed toward them.
“Holy shit! It actually worked.” She swallowed hard. “What do I do now?” “Don’t break eye contact. When he stops at the table, you speak first. Tell him what you want and then visualize it happening. He’ll get the picture in vivid detail once you put it in his mind.” The shifter stopped at Eve’s chair with a confused look on his face. He stood holding his drink but didn’t say anything. Eve kept eye contact, but Lane had to smack her on the arm to get her to breathe. “Uhm, that looks interesting. What are you drinking?” He blinked, but then glanced at the long neck in his hand. “It’s called a Purple Haze. The brewery is in Louisiana.” Lane had to look away. Spelled or not, the boy didn’t seem the sharpest knife in the drawer. “I bet,” Eve added. “The Mardi Gras funeral skeleton on the label is really cool.” He licked his lips but didn’t say anything else. “Are you visiting New York?” She bit her lip against a nervous giggle. “I’m Eve, by the way.” She held out her hand, stifling a quick gasp when he folded her fingers into his palm. “No, I’m from Long Island City. I’m Mason—” He paused, shaking his head. “You know, I’m not exactly sure how I ended up talking to you. One minute I’m sipping my beer at the bar, and the next nothing mattered except meeting you.” He
hesitated again, but this time with a smile. “Not that I’m sorry.” “Me neither,” she replied. “You know—” She leaned in, giving him an eyeful of cleavage. “I love this place. The music rocks, and I really love to dance. You?” A slow, grin tugged at the shifter’s mouth. “I know exactly what you mean.” “So, do you like to dance?” Eve murmured something more, and Mason’s semi-perplexed look changed to a hungry stare. She nearly choked. “There’s nothing I’d like more.” He chuckled then, rubbing a finger under his full bottom lip. “Actually, that’s not true. If I told you what ran through my mind when I walked over, you’d slap me.” “That bad, huh?” “No, that good. As in X-rated good.” Mason hesitated again. “Look, I’m not always this forward. Not unless it’s a full moon.” He exhaled, still unsure. “I can’t explain it, but I can’t fight it, either.” His gaze flicked from her face to her deep décolleté. “Not that I’d want to…God, you look good enough to eat.” She laughed. “Don’t tell me. Wolf, right?” “Howl you doing?” he replied, cracking a grin. “So, you’re one of us, then. At least, I hope so. It’ll save time explaining the unexplainable.”
“We are—” Lane quietened a laugh. “Same tree, different branch, though.” “Mason, this is my friend—” “Lane,” she interjected. “Who was just about to head to the bar.” “Laney, no—” With a dismissive wave, Lane pushed herself from her chair. “I’ll be back. Just don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.” “Ha. That leaves things wide open, Miss I like to play rough sometimes.” Mason raised an eyebrow, glancing between the two witches. “Wow. And I thought tonight was going to be a bust. Lucky me. Two for the price of one.” He took a step back, giving Eve another suggestive look before sliding some of that steam to where Lane stood. “Hold up, cowboy.” Lane raised an eyebrow, shutting him down. Eve’s projection clearly overshot the mark. Either that or the horndog was truly as thick as a brick. Three was definitely not company, no matter what wolf boy thought. “You’ve got the wrong end of the stick here, pup. So, unless you want to end up with a permanent tail, I suggest you keep your eye on one prize.” She glanced at Eve. “Or do I need to conjure a rolled-up magazine and whack you on the nose?”
Mason burst out laughing. “I think this was my bad.” Eve winced, mouthing sorry to Lane. “No worries, babe. I still make out the winner tonight.” He lifted Eve’s hand to his lips, skimming her knuckles. “Besides, I’m dying to see if the images in my head match what I see in your eyes.” Lane’s phone buzzed and she dug in her back pocket, saved by the cell. “Shit. It’s Caitlan.” She made a face at the name on caller I.D. Their supreme had precognition, but damn she was good. “What should I do?” Eve asked. Lane waved the two of them down. “I have to take this or Caitlan will materialize or worse. Drinks are on me. Just don’t go anywhere until I get back.” Turning on her heel, she pressed accept call. “Caitlan?” She kept her tone light, plugging her opposite ear as she walked from the table. “What’s up?” “Where are you?” “I’m out, why?” “Out where?” Lane peered around a chrome pillar only to see Eve walking with Mason down the VIP stairs toward the dance floor. “Shit,” she muttered. “Funny how one word can give so much away. What are you up to, missy?”
Lane frowned, turning her attention to the call. “Caitlan, did you call just to annoy me? I told you I’m out. I’m not one of your initiates, so go hound them.” “I would, but they’re nowhere to be found. If this is one of your stunts, Lane Alden—” “What makes you think missing initiates have anything to do with me?” She exhaled. “You know what, don’t answer that. While I appreciate the backhanded vote of confidence that I could organize a Coven coup de grâce, I don’t know what you’re talking about, Caitlan. Your girls are doubtless holed up somewhere with a pizza and a cheap bottle of wine. That’s what my friends and I did before our initiation.” “Exactly my point.” Lane scooted around the edge of the bar, trying to keep Eve in sight. “Caitlan, stop worrying. Your witchlings are all of age. If they needed to blow off a little steam, so what? Their test is at the end of the week. Every one of them will show up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for their Dawning Ceremony. Have you ever known a Raven to miss their moment?” “No, but—” “Exactly,” Lane shot back, watching Mason and Eve give each other a tongue bath on the dance floor. “Look, I have to go.” “Wait, Lane—please.”
That got her attention. She didn’t hang up, but she wasn’t sure she wanted to know what prompted their usually hard-assed supreme to be so imploring. “You there?” Caitlan prompted. Lane chewed on her lip. “I’m here. What’s going on, Caitlan?” “I need to talk with you.” The supreme hesitated. “About a blood rite.” “A blood rite? You can’t be serious. Why?” “Word reached me about an hour ago. It’s why I’m so frantic. There’s an Unseelie in the city.” “Caitlan, there are any number of Sidhe, Seelie and Unseelie, in the city at any given time. Why is this a cause for alarm?” “This one is a rogue, and he’s looking to claim anyone with Fae-kissed blood.” “Claim? How? Why?” Lane sank into the nearest chair. “What did you hear?” “There was an incident in the Dark Court. Some sort of power struggle or failed coup against the Unseelie king. I don’t know all the details, but the Sidhe responsible was banished, accused of scandal. The price for him to regain his place at court is to seize a Fae-kissed witch and return with them to Faerie.” Caitlan’s words came in a frustrated rush. Lane raked a hand through her long blonde hair. “For what purpose? I’ve never heard such a thing.”
“Your guess is as good as mine.” Caitlan exhaled on the other end of the phone. “Anyway, the why of it doesn’t matter. We must do something. Dark Sidhe aren’t known for kindness.” “Against humans. Not against their own.” Caitlan grunted, and the sound was both resentful and weary. “Despite the trace in our blood, we’re not Fae. No court has ever claimed our lineage. In their eyes, Fae-kissed witches are a humiliation, only slightly better than humans. Maybe that’s part of the so-called scandal.” The supreme was quiet for a moment before continuing. “I have no other choice, Lane. I am recalling all coven members to the motherhouse. Speculation is of no use, and we’re wasting time. We need to protect our own, and the best way to do that is a lockdown and a blood rite. So, if you know the whereabouts of any of our initiates—” The leader of the Circle of the Raven didn’t need to finish. “I understand.” “Good.” Caitlan paused again. “And Laney—” “Yes?” “Be careful, honey.” The supreme’s voice softened, and for a moment it held the same gentleness Lane remembered from when she came to the motherhouse as a child. She had no memory of what came before, but all Fae-kissed witches were
destined for the Circle of the Raven, and despite the supreme’s penchant for discipline, Caitlan did everything she could to make their transition seamless and natural for every witchling. Still, Lane was no longer a child, and over the years had given Caitlan and the other elders a run for their money. A black sheep. “Lane, are you listening?” She coughed. “Yeah…sorry. I was just thinking.” “Good. Despite you’re reckless nature, you’re a clever cookie. I know you don’t usually like to play by the rules, but in this instance, you need to remember everything I taught you about the Sidhe to keep yourself, and whoever is with you, safe—at least until you’re securely behind motherhouse doors. A rogue like this will do anything to regain their position at court. Shapeshift. Even kill.” Her voice cracked. “I don’t want to lose you. Any of you.” Lane chewed her lip. Caitlan knew Eve was with her tonight. The fact she didn’t stop them from sneaking out spoke volumes. Their supreme wasn’t quite the hard-ass she wanted everyone to believe. Black sheep or not, Caitlan loved her. And Eve. “And Laney, if you don’t make it home in time, promise you’ll find some other kind of— sanctuary.”
The word left no question Caitlan knew where she and Eve were tonight, but she also knew vampire council doors were iron clad. Talk about a clever cookie. If they had to face a rogue Sidhe, there was no better place to do so. Lane closed her eyes, regretting the whole evening. “I’ll do what I can, Caitlan. I promise.” Lane pressed end and locked her phone. She turned on her heel to head for the stairs, scanning for Eve the entire way. Caitlan’s news explained what skimmed her senses earlier tonight. It wasn’t a backlash. It was a premonition. She needed to grab Eve and get out before something happened.
The last thing Lane wanted was an undead frenzy. Fae blood was intoxicating to vampires, and the possibility of a full-blooded Sidhe in their private playground? Bad. Very bad. It was enough she spelled their way into the VIP lounge, but to bring trouble to their doorstep was something else. Vampires were imperious by nature, and not the most forgiving of beings. Especially not with those who disrespected their refuge. The Red Veil wasn’t just a trendy underground club. It was Le Sanctuaire. Sanctuary. A place undead elders, Sebastién DuLac, Rémy Tessier, and Dominic De’Lessep, founded when North America was still the New World. It had evolved over the centuries, but here it stood in its modern incarnation. Averting an incident in vampire country needed speed and stealth. She needed to work fast and stay as far under the undead radar as possible.
Pushing her way through the throng, Lane craned to peer past the sea of Goth humanity. The last she saw of Eve she was at the center of the pulsing crowd with Mason. “Hopeless,” she muttered, pivoting toward a back corner instead. She wasn’t going to find Eve using ordinary means. She needed magic. The back corridor opposite the bathrooms was quieter, and less likely for her to be interrupted. Leaning against a veil-draped pillar, she closed her eyes and expanded her senses. She concentrated on Eve and their shared bloodline. Silence. Not even a blip. Maybe a vampy ward blocked her search. Or maybe Eve’s mind was so sex-soaked she didn’t want to be found. Opening her eyes, she exhaled an expletive. “You and your ‘go for it’ attitude, Alden. Clever cookie, my ass.” Eve had teased her about their innate scrying ability, calling it a witchy version of Apple’s Find My Phone. It was obvious the girl had turned hers to silent. “I know you’re getting your freak on right now, but I need a hint, sweetie. Where are you?” She physically scanned the area once more, hoping for something. If Mason hurt her, that dumbass shifter would never see another full moon. Lifting a hand to her
forehead, she exhaled. Most Weres were quickwitted as well as attractive. Leave it to her to pick the mental runt of the litter. “Okay, Evie. I need you to answer me. Now.” For a witch not to answer a summons, it meant one of two things. Either she ignored the call, or she couldn’t respond. Worst case scenarios sprang to life and Lane clenched her jaw. “Stop it. We’re not there yet.” Shoving her hand through her hair, she chewed on her lip. She needed to expand her range to the edge of the vampire sanctuary and their infamous backrooms before anything happened. That’s if you’re not already too late. I said stop. Lane closed her eyes, pushing her guilt to the back of her mind. We’re not playing by the rules tonight. Well, maybe bending the rules wasn’t enough. Maybe she had to break them completely. Her eyes snapped open. Screw scrying the periphery. She was getting into those backrooms if it meant force feeding her blood to every vampire trolling the club. She lifted both hands, her power on full charge, but before she could mumble a spelled word, pins and needles tingled at the base of her spine. “What the fu—”
Her hands dropped as the tingle spread. It warmed, growing hotter and hotter until it spread through her extremities. Lane arched away from the pillar. Almost of their own volition, rubbery legs pitched her toward the arched entrance to the backrooms. Invisible hands trailed the length of her thighs, edging higher and higher. Her breasts ached and wetness slicked the lace of her panties. Son of a bitch! Someone had answered her summons, but it wasn’t Eve. Her knees went weak, and she fisted the front of her blouse, fumbling for control. The urge to plunge her hands between her legs and self-satisfy nearly drove her to the floor. The words ‘Death by Sex’ flashed through her mind, and she forced a breath, steadying herself against the edge of the entry way. “Fuck you, you bastard!” A soft chuckle stroked her mind. Except this wasn’t funny. It was a taunt. Whoever this was, they wanted her to know they were in control. If it wasn’t the rogue Sidhe, it was a minion, and she wasn’t about to become a plaything. What was it she preached to Eve? Witches need to cast on the fly and conjure when required? Gritting her teeth, she threw a wall up against the invisible mind fuck and marshaled her focus. She reached for the pentacle at her throat and
wrapped her hand around the silver and black tourmaline. “Hands off, you pig!” With a snarl, she reversed the attack, sending a bitch slap reply across the highjacked path. A painful hiss echoed in her mind, and she smirked. “I hope that crushed your balls, you asshole!” Message clear. Fuck with me and I will fuck with you right back. She centered her strength before he found a way to retaliate, closing doors all over her mind. She couldn’t find Eve without a wide search, but if this fucker kept messing with her mind, her chances were slim to none. Maybe that was his sick plan. Dark Fae were known to be sexual predators. Death by Sex was a weapon of choice and a badge of honor in the Unseelie Court. The invasive feel dissipated the moment she shut him down, and she steeled herself, disgusted at the damp feel in her panties. Her body betrayed her, and she hated that someone had the ability to force her will. Still, score one for Team Witch. The big bad Sidhe bolted the moment she hit back. “Coward.” Drawing a cleansing breath, she used the energy from the crowd as a buffer and braced herself. A solitary witch couldn’t go up
against a rogue Sidhe alone. Especially not one with an agenda. “Yeah, well. Two could play at that game, jerkwad.” She straightened her shoulders. No one touched her without permission, especially not an assailant too chicken to show himself. The Fae bastard would get more than a bitchslap when she got hold of him, but right now it was more important she find Eve. Quieting her mind, she kept herself guarded and her power at low voltage. If opening her senses fully had tipped the bastard to her presence, she’d be damned if she gave him any more help. “Come out, come out, whoever you are,” she murmured. She cast a magical net across the club, pinpointing every supernatural by specific species and position. Her underlying magic permeated the air, drawing energy from motion and sexual tension. The poured concrete floor shimmered like asphalt in summer, but most patrons moved in the surreal setting completely unaware. Dread wound its way toward her, floating above the magic. Foreboding black tendrils grew as she followed the ominous sigil toward the entrance to the infamous backrooms. “Oh God, Eve. No.”
She stared at the steel and iron enforced door and her mouth wet dry. “Okay, well. Mason is a shifter. Maybe he has a season pass to a backroom freakshow and everything’s all good.” “You really don’t believe that, do you?” Lane whirled on her heel at the deep male timbre. She blinked. The man standing behind her was not what she expected. “Anyone ever tell you it’s rude to eavesdrop on private conversations?” Tall, gorgeous, and as dark as she was fair, he had supernatural written all over him, despite his cloaked glamour. “Does it qualify as a conversation when one is talking to themselves?” He cocked his head, flashing a teasing grin. “Look, I don’t have time for whatever it is you think you’re doing. I’m not interested. So, go away.” The half-smile on his lips sobered and he met her eyes with a steady, unnerving gaze. “You do realize you’ll have to bargain your way through those locked doors. You won’t find your charge otherwise. No witch has ever gained access alone. Not without help.” She lifted her chin, sliding into a defensive stance. “If the kind of help you suggest is what I think, there’s more than a kick to the balls waiting for you if you take a step closer.”
“I’m glad to see time hasn’t tempered your devil fire, Laney. Can it be you really don’t recognize me?” Her eyes narrowed. The man’s features were strong. With a full mouth and chiseled jaw. His hair was the color of rich dark chocolate, but it was the intense blue of his eyes that held her attention. Eyes the color of Blue Raspberry Crush. Her chest tightened, and her mouth went dry. It couldn’t be. He gave a little flourish, finishing with a courtly bow. “Now, love, tell me you don’t remember slipping behind the hedgerow with me in Caitlan’s garden. Or how we stole a bottle of her best mead and had our own Yule celebration, just us two.” “Gareth?” His name was an uncertain whisper. Lifting his head, he winked, dropping his glamoured façade. “In the flesh.” Lane blinked again, stunned. “But, you’re dead.” “Ah, my love. There’s dead, and then there’s dead-dead.” Past images flooded her mind as he closed the distance between them. If this was truly Gareth, he was as heady as ever, with the same underlying sensuality that used to make her mouth water. “But how? I watched you burn.” Her words faltered in disbelief, but there he stood. “Are you undead, then?”
It was the only answer that made sense, but there was no hint of vampire in the man. In fact, there was no hint of anything out of the ordinary, except for the fact she watched a pyre consume his body ten years earlier. “Hardly undead, love.” Gareth smiled softly. “You look great, by the way. Ethereal and as gorgeous as ever. You’ve grown into a stunning woman, Laney. Then again, I’m a little prejudiced. You were mine, so you were perfect. You still are.” “And you still dance around giving straight answers, if it’s truly you.” Flashing a crooked smile, he touched the side of his perfect nose. “You were always smarter, but I’ll give you a hint. Coveted blood has its advantages.” Her lips parted. “So, it’s true then.” “Don’t gape, love. It’s not your style.” She snapped her mouth shut but slid back into a defensive stance, her eyes narrowing. “Sidhe can shapeshift, and they can help themselves to memories.” “Is this proof enough?” He rolled his shirt sleeve over his forearm, showing her the tender underside. Lane stared at the mark. The same one she and every other Fae-kissed witch in the Circle of the Raven had upon their initiation. Not a tattoo. Not a brand. An inner mark that rose from their blood.
“Our mark is as unique as it is inborn. Granted by the Goddess Morrigan to the children of a witch and a full-blooded Sidhe and all their descendants. We carry the mark in our blood. Sidhe from either court can conceal almost anything with glamour, but not this.” Lane lifted the belled sleeve of her blouse, holding her forearm out as well. Intricate Celtic spirals twined over soft flesh, climbing ivy-like toward the elbow. Their two marks were identical, and when Lane’s arm touched his, the patterns glowed. Like recognized like. “Do you know how long I wondered and waited?” Her question was barely a murmur. “After a year, I figured the story was just legend. I mourned you, Gareth. For the longest time.” Gareth stroked the soft skin below her mark. “It took me a long time to recover, but yes, the Phoenix did rise.” “Phoenix Fae,” she uttered the words almost reverently. “Does Caitlan know?” He shook his head. “No. No one does.” He shrugged. “Well, no one on this plane. Except you.” “This plane.” She raised an eyebrow, still skeptical. “Are you saying—” “Does it matter?” Gareth answered her question with a question. “You want to find your friend, and I want to help. Can’t we leave it at that for now?”
She considered him. “Are you going to disappear for another decade, or at least stick around long enough to explain what happened and why you never let me know you were alive?” Gareth clasped her arm, pressing their marks together. The air shimmered gold around them, soft magic tingling through their bodies. “No one’s making me go anywhere, love.” He leaned in closer. “Not this time. Not without you.” The shared tingle spread, enveloping her body in delicious heat. Memories flooded their merged auras, leaving her even more stunned. Gareth’s face tense with need, his hips grinding deep as his thick length filled her. His teasing laugh when he surprised her with their first sex toy. Her body hummed with pent-up need, and her lips parted again, but not to argue. “Gareth—” Next thing she knew, she was on tiptoe as though ten years never happened, ready to claim his mouth. He pulled back. “Laney, I—” She blinked, not sure which stung more. His rejection or her own stupidity. Mortified, she pulled her arm from their combined clasp, but he held tight. “Laney, don’t. Your impulse wasn’t wrong. I’ve missed you. More than you can know. For ten years, you’ve occupied my mind and my heart.” He exhaled, closing his eyes for a moment. “This is my
fault. I shouldn’t have tempted you from what’s important.” “Tempted me?” Her eyes narrowed, distrust creeping in again. “Gareth, that wasn’t you before?” “Before when?” With an expletive, her cheeks warmed even more, but she had to ask. “The invisible man touch…thing.” “You’ve lost me completely.” Self-conscious, she pressed her lips together. “Someone groped me with invisible hands when I tried scrying for Eve. It nearly had me on the floor with my hand in my panties, it was that strong.” Gareth’s face tightened. “Fucking Leith.” “Leith.” She watched him. “Is he the rogue Sidhe responsible for this mess?” Nodding, he swore. “Don’t worry. I’ll show you how to deflect his magic. What he did will never happen again.” “No, it won’t.” She gave a satisfied snort. “I have a few tricks of my own and reversed it straight back to his balls. Hard.” Gareth laughed, cupping Lane’s face. “Still my rebel Raven.” “Yep, only now I have a cause. Let’s do what we have to and then blow this blood-pop stand. We have a decade that needs catching up.”
Buy on Amazon
Like FREEBIES and SWAG and info on contests and new releases? SIGN UP FOR MY MONTHLY NEWSLETTER! http://www.mariannemorea.com/contact-me.html
If you enjoyed the story, please feel free to email me. Reviews are always welcome, especially on Amazon, iBooks and Goodreads!
About the Author
Marianne Morea was born and raised in New York. Inspired by the dichotomies that define ‘the city that never sleeps’, she began her career after college as a budding journalist. Later, earning a MFA, from The School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, she moved on to the graphic arts. But it was her lifelong love affair with words, and the fantasies and ‘what ifs’ they stir, that finally brought her back to writing