My name is Evangeline, and I’m a retired assassin who wants nothing to do with the underworld. But an edict from a Demonic Lord forces me to return to the man and the life I left behind.
I have seven days to prove my innocence.
Whoever set me up is going to die.
About the Author
Lexi C. Foss is a writer lost in the IT world. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband and their furry children. When not writing, she’s busy crossing items off her travel bucket list. Many of the places she’s visited can be seen in her writing, including the mythical world of Hydria which is based on Hydra in the Greek islands. She’s quirky, consumes way too much coffee, and loves to swim.
The Ganga Shift
Publisher: Parliament House Press
Life hasn’t been easy for Isabella. She spent most of her childhood in the foster care system, and now at twenty-two she has landed herself in prison on drug charges. Her troubled past is what makes her a perfect candidate for the government’s latest scientific endeavor, Operation Gene Re-sequencing. No one will miss her. No one will question her absence. But, when it’s discovered Isabella is immune to their DNA-changing drugs, she is selected to be used as prey for those who aren’t.
Chase and Brayden couldn’t be more opposite; Chase is calm, reserved, and completely insistent that he will control the changes the virus is causing in his body. Brayden, on the other hand, has always been wild and uninhibited. He welcomes the new animalistic nature coming over him. The one thing they have in common? They both have a taste for the cute little Asian inmate who is now sharing their cell.
Mary Bernsen is a Florida native living in North Port with her two beautiful children and a third, much larger child whom she affectionately calls husband. She is the Amazon Best Selling Author of the Villain’s Love series and also writes young adult fiction under her pseudonym, M.E Rhines.
Dark Longing’s central characters are Inanna and Gabriel. She is a vampire warrior, one of Queen Jade Cicada’s Chosen guard, and has lived for several millennia. She is also one of the few remaining True Bloods in the world, vampires who are born, not made. He is a human, a widower and father who would sacrifice all for those he loves. Unbeknownst to Gabriel, he also possesses a Pure soul and has an ancient past, as well as a future destiny, that is inextricably entwined with Inanna.
Fate (and a helping hand from Gabriel’s dying wife) has thrown them together in this present age as joint guardians of Benjamin, the son of Gabriel’s heart if not his body. An avalanche of expenses and debts compel Gabriel to enter a deadly network of fight clubs to earn some quick cash, but pulling out of the club is not as easy, as he quickly becomes the spectator favorite.
Meanwhile, the Chosen has been working to eradicate the masterminds behind the fight clubs, which not only result in an increasing number of gory human deaths, but also threaten to expose the Dark Ones to the world at large. In a rare concerted effort, the vampires and their nemesis – the Pure Ones – come together to pursue a common enemy.
To protect Benji from harm, Gabriel risks his life once more in the fight clubs and is almost killed by an unknown vampire assassin. In order to save him, Inanna breaks the sacred laws of her Kind, including turning a human and taking him as her Blooded Mate. What’s worse, they discover after the fact that Gabriel has a Pure soul. A union between Dark and Pure Ones has been strictly forbidden since the dawn of time for reasons no one fully knew.
While the Chosen makes progress with slowing down the expansion of the fight clubs, they uncover new information that points to a traitor in their own midst. Gabriel has a rough adjustment to his new state of being as a vampire, at the same time struggling to make sense of his relationship with Inanna, with whom he’s felt an instant and irresistible connection from the first moment they met. Inanna, on the other hand, devotes her heart and soul totally to love her Mate, just as she had loved his previous incarnation in her youth many millennia ago. To save her from pain, Gabriel’s ancient self, Alad, had her memories erased of him until he could find her again in another life.
Through her newly-forged friendship with the Pure Ones, including their young queen Sophia, Inanna discovers that not only is she a True Blood, but that her mother was a Dark Princess and her father was a Pure warrior and the leader of the Rebellion that led to the destruction of the Dark empire. She is the offspring from this union, and she has a twin brother who all the records say had died. Inanna also finds clues that at least her father might still be alive, and perhaps her mother as well.
By now Gabriel has fully accepted his new lease on life and is determined to help in the war against vampire rogues and their human conspirators any way he can. He has also accepted Inanna fully into his heart, having fallen for her all over again in his present incarnation. But the vampire assassin who threatened them before reveals herself again to challenge Inanna for the right to claim Gabriel as her Blood Slave and takes him prisoner to use against Inanna in the final death match.
Inanna goes with eyes wide open to the site of the challenge and fights the vampire who used to be her comrade. To distract her, the vampire holds Gabriel captive and deals him mortal wounds for every wound Inanna deals her. The ploy works, and Inanna loses concentration, suffering a mortal wound herself.
Inanna and Gabriel’s deaths trigger their Awakening, a process by which those with Pure souls embrace their past lives with all their memories and gifts. When they regain consciousness, they rejoin the battle already waging between the vampire assassins and the Chosen and Pure allies. They win this battle, and together, Inanna and Gabriel execute the traitor who plotted to usurp the Dark Queen.
But the war is not won. The battle between the vampires, humans and Pure Ones was recorded and uploaded onto the Internet to spur the growth of new fight clubs and potentially hastening the widespread exposure of the immortal races to humans. Meanwhile, Inanna and Gabriel rediscover each other with full knowledge of their ancient past. They plan to search for Inanna’s father with the aid of the Pure Ones.
The future is not yet written. Inanna and Gabriel would face the unknown together. Forevermore.
“Thou shalt not covet thy human subjects, nor the Pure Ones who are thy slaves. Subjects must be held at an objective distance, ruled by a fair hand. Slaves must be leashed with tight control, mastered by a strong will.”
—Excerpt from the Dark Laws, verse twenty-one of the Ecliptic Scrolls
It was five o’clock when Inanna slipped back inside the hospice.
She had over an hour of night left, plenty of time to collect on the Blood-Contract and make her way back to the Cove before the early rays of winter sun started to weave their drowsy spell around her.
A little known fact was that Inanna felt less of the sun’s adverse effects than other vampires.
Only the Queen was aware of the truth.
To maintain appearances, however, she stuck to the usual vampire routine.
Checking briefly at the guest log on the empty reception desk, she saw that Gabriel had signed out before midnight, having stayed much later than his usual visit. Perhaps he sensed somehow that this would be the last hours he would spend with his wife.
When he saw her next, she would no longer be among the living.
Inanna walked soundlessly through the corridors to arrive at Olivia’s room. She entered as if one with the darkness, a mere shadow flickering against the wall, and locked the door behind her.
Olivia was in the throes of what seemed to be a nightmare.
She was making pained whimpers, gasping for breath, while tossing and turning on her narrow bed, her hands curled into claws as she fervently scratched the skin around her IV and throat.
A cool breeze drifted through the open windows, carrying the soothing scent of jasmine from the trees that surrounded the hospice, but the writhing patient seemed immune to its therapeutic effects.
Inanna had seen this sight thousands of times.
Hundreds of thousands.
It was the last feverish battle of the dying.
The drugs were losing their effects; the patient’s body was rebelling against her. She was flailing against the onset of death.
Inanna knew what she needed.
“I am here, Olivia,” the Chosen said, drawing near to sit beside the mechanical bed, taking one of the patient’s hands and squeezing lightly to calm the frenzied shaking.
“Do not fret. I am here.”
Olivia turned toward the sound of her voice and opened her chapped lips, but only incoherent grunts and mumbles tumbled from them.
As if frustrated with her inability to speak clearly, she began to shake her head from side to side, hot tears slipping from the corners of her eyes.
“Shall I ease your pain a bit?” Inanna asked, not really expecting an answer.
She drew one boney wrist closer and quickly sank her canines into the barely-there vein.
With the first slow draw of blood, the venom from her fangs trickling into the patient’s bloodstream like the most powerful sedative, Olivia stopped thrashing immediately and began to breathe more evenly, more deeply.
Stopping after a few small sips so that Olivia was calm and lucid enough to open her eyes, temporarily clear of pain and drugs, Inanna licked the wound closed and regarded the human woman with patience and understanding.
“Thank you,” Olivia began weakly, “thank you for giving me one more night with him.”
“He needed to hear your heart,” Inanna answered. “You have waited much too long to tell him.”
“I was a fool and a coward,” the patient agreed. “Even at the end I do not think he believed me.”
Inanna felt a long-stored anger unfurling in her stomach, stretching its way toward her throat, burning the tip of her tongue with a caustic reply.
Perhaps Olivia sensed it, for she admitted, “I know it’s all my fault. I have no one to blame but myself. He has given me, in so many ways, for so many years, a love I don’t deserve while I only hurt him with my stupid, thoughtless mistakes.”
The patient’s eyes took on a faraway sheen as she inhaled deeply the soft flowery fragrance wafting from the open windows and murmured, “Our old neighborhood was lined with jasmine trees. He used to follow me around when we were teenagers, you know. At first I thought it was because we walked the same way to school since we lived across the street from each other, and then I thought this shaggy-headed new kid was stalking me.”
She gave a small chuckle. “I was pretty full of myself back then. Being the head cheerleader and prom queen tended to inflate a High School girl’s ego.”
“But later I realized he was protecting me, since I often went home well past dark. Isn’t that strange?” she asked the question, but Inanna did not think she expected an answer.
“He has been protecting me ever since the beginning. But hard as he tried, he couldn’t save me from myself. All the terrible mistakes I made.”
Inanna kept silent, lowering her gaze.
Yes, she knew everything about those mistakes. She knew the couple’s entire tragic story. It didn’t have to be this way, she often thought.
It seemed so blatantly simple for Olivia to make the right choices, more pointedly, to choose her husband.
To choose her son, Benjamin.
But the woman seemed wired for self-destruction. Her choices in life not only hurt everyone who loved her, but ultimately, herself.
What a waste!
She felt a slight tug on the hand that still held Olivia’s wrist and looked directly into the patient’s eyes.
“You will take good care of them, won’t you?” Olivia beseeched her with tear-filled eyes. “Please make them happy. I can’t bear that my mistakes might outlive me.”
Inanna had to swallow twice before she found her voice, made it neutral, soothing. “I always keep my promises. Gabriel and Benjamin will lack for nothing.”
Olivia nodded, trusting the vampire completely.
The vampire who had been her secret friend for as many years as she’d been married. Perhaps because Olivia had a rather fanciful nature, perhaps she simply did not care, but she had known from the beginning of their unlikely acquaintance that Inanna was not of her world.
They’d met while Olivia was hospitalized after the “incident.” She’d shared a room with a patient dying of leukemia because the hospital wards had been over-occupied during the holiday season due to traffic and other accidents. She’d witnessed how this honey-blonde goddess-like creature had all but floated into the room, bent solicitously over the dying patient and whispered words of reassurance, promising to end his pain.
The man had neither family nor friends. He could no longer afford hospital bills and was essentially at the mercy of city charity. He might have been able to linger on for another month or two, but he was in a tremendous amount of pain. Olivia had heard his fervent prayers the night she’d been brought into the ward.
He’d prayed for death.
And death had come for him in the form of an angel.
Olivia had heard some of their hushed words. The woman would stay for hours talking soothingly to the dying man. She’d hold his hand and smile at him with understanding and care.
On the second night that Olivia was there, the night before her release from the hospital, she’d heard them speak of the Contract.
“I told him about you,” Olivia said now to her Angel of Death. “As much as I knew about you.”
She paused and then said, “Except that you’re not quite human.”
A small smile curved Inanna’s voluptuous mouth.
“What a euphemistic way to put it,” she murmured.
Olivia shrugged almost imperceptibly.
“It doesn’t matter to me what you are. You’ve been a better friend to me than anyone else in my life. Except for Gabriel.”
She took a deep, steadying breath.
“Do you suppose he’ll be angry with me?”
“He has that right as the man who loves you,” the Chosen answered. “But what you do with your life is your choice.”
“That’s not what you said when we first met,” Olivia reminded her.
“It was not merely your life at stake at the time,” Inanna replied evenly.
“You were right about that,” the patient agreed. “Benji was by far the best decision I’ve ever made.”
Abruptly, she turned away, facing the ceiling instead of her visitor.
The trembling in her body began again as she flashed hot and cold. The venom was starting to wear off.
“You’ll make sure he doesn’t suspect the arrangement?” Olivia asked for what was probably the hundredth time, her voice starting to fade.
“He will not suspect.”
“He hates to be manipulated. He has so much pride.”
Inanna didn’t answer.
Yes, she knew. Gabriel’s code of honor reminded Inanna of the most ancient Dark Ones.
Inanna cocked her head a bit. Didn’t she already ask this? Nevertheless she answered, “He will lack for nothing.”
“That’s not what I meant.” Olivia sighed and closed her eyes.
Her shaking had intensified. She was idly scratching herself again.
“I want you to be kind to him. I don’t want him to be lonely. I want you to lo—”
She broke off as her panting got stronger, as she struggled to draw enough oxygen into her failing lungs, arching off the bed in a twist of pain.
“It is time,” Inanna said quietly, knowing that the patient no longer heard her.
With a gust of wind, the windows slammed shut, the lights in the hospice room blacked out. In the heavy darkness there was a flash of white fangs.
*** *** *** ***
Gabriel slid into the studio soundlessly just as the first rays of dawn filtered through the crack in the window drapes.
Benji slept peacefully in the bed, his breathing even and deep, a small warm mound under the covers topped by unruly pale blond curls.
Gabriel paused over his son’s innocent form and gently smoothed a thumb down one plump cheek.
Though he was solidly into his boyhood, Benji retained the cherubic sweetness of his toddler days. Perhaps it was the riotous blond curls. Perhaps the rosy cheeks and mouth. Just looking upon his little angel made Gabriel smile, though it was followed almost immediately by a grimace as his split lip split even deeper.
He straightened and, in one smooth motion, pulled the bloodied hoodie over his head, shucking his torn joggers a second later, and made his way, naked, to the tiny bathroom with an even tinier shower stall.
At least the water pressure in the apartment was blessedly strong.
As the blast of hot water drenched him from head to toe, Gabriel closed his eyes and raised his face into the cleansing deluge.
After two gruesome hours in Hell’s belly, and six matches later, he was ten grand richer. Enough to pay off three months of over-due rent, which Mrs. Sergeyev had been kind enough to forgive thus far without interest or eviction, plus one month advance, as well as Olivia’s hospice bills. He even had a nice little cushion left over for food and emergencies.
And all it took was three bruised ribs, bloody knuckles, a few nasty scratches, a split lip and let’s not forget—beating six men into unconscious putty with his bare hands and feet.
His shifu would be appalled.
Gabriel clenched his jaw.
He did what he had to do. He would do everything in his power to protect those he loved. As long as he could live with his conscience afterwards.
He’d made sure those men were merely unconscious, a few broken bones and concussions, perhaps, but no debilitating injuries for the long term. They would recover quickly enough to fight another day.
In truth, it didn’t have to take as long as it did to dispatch his opponents. A few well-placed jabs and kicks would have knocked them out faster. But he needed to play to the spectators. He had to look like he was struggling, on the verge of losing for a while so that the bets were stacked against him, so that his winnings in the end would be that much greater.
Dragging a fight out to look like he was weaker, taking hits without taking proportional damage, was a tricky tightrope Gabriel had to balance upon. He wondered whether he should have allowed a black eye or two and a bloodied nose to appeal more to the audience’s bloodlust. But he had to weigh that against the blood and swollen flesh disorienting his vision, which would have made the fights more dangerous, less predictable.
He couldn’t afford to lose his matches.
Absent-mindedly, Gabriel ran the bar of Dial soap over his bruised skin and aching muscles, diligently ignoring his cock stand as he quickly scrubbed the coarse hair around and the heavy sacs beneath. He must be still too pumped full of adrenaline from the fights, he reasoned, his body was simply reacting to the testosterone overload.
Never mind that it had been a long, long time since he’d had an erection this hard, this insistent.
Twenty-six year-old male virgins in today’s society were as rare as dragons. Probably even more mythical.
Married virgins were likely nonexistent.
Gabriel didn’t choose this path intentionally; it simply was.
His boyhood upbringing by the Shaolin monks on Song Mountain in Henan Province, China, after his missionary parents had died in the Great Earthquake, taught him abstinence, self-control and discipline. Since his grandparents found him and brought him back to the States to live with them, he’d only ever felt a deep connection to one girl.
And despite that she never truly reciprocated his feelings, not even in the end, he’d been intensely faithful. He’d never so much as sought release by his own hand since Olivia’s illness. There was something inherently wrong with him seeking his own pleasure while his wife was wasting away in pain.
It was as if the carnal side of his nature had never truly awakened.
Now he looked upon the jutting staff as if it were separate from his body, something of an oddity, something he didn’t know quite what to do with.
Of its own volition, one large, long-fingered hand smoothed down his pecs to his tight abdomen, stopping near his navel, where the head of his engorged member bobbed insistently. He stared at it for long moments before carefully, loosely cradling the steely length within his wide palm.
He gasped at the startling sensation, and his penis jumped in reaction. Mind blank of coherent thoughts, eyes closed against the shower that had long since turned cold, Gabriel wrapped his hand tighter around the hot, velvety column, testing himself with a gentle squeeze.
And groaned deeply in response, the shocks of pleasure shooting through his body like lightning rods, making him physically stagger off balance.
Leaning his back against the stall wall, his long, muscular legs braced apart, slightly bent at the knees, he pushed himself further with a few tentative fist pumps.
But it was too much.
He felt too much.
His chest heaving with shortened breath, his jaw clenched tightly against the animalistic sounds that threatened to escape, his penis throbbing, his testicles hurting, Gabriel stood helpless as his long-revered control began to unwind like the fibers of a rope stretched too taut.
Until finally it snapped.
On a sharp intake of breath, Gabriel’s eyes flew open.
Someone was watching him.
About the Author
Aja has been writing stories since the age of six, and novels since the age of thirteen. While she’d be the first to admit that those early efforts weren’t particularly good, she sure loved putting them down on paper!
The best part of writing, according to Aja, is that it’s completely organic, the way the stories develop. When the inspiration hits, she writes just so she herself can learn where the characters are headed because oftentimes, they take her by surprise! It is her ultimate dream to share her stories with as many readers as she possibly can.
Her other loves include art, cooking, old movies (anything with Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, Robert Redford, Vivien Leigh, Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Newman, Clark Gable, and all the song and dance numbers because she can’t watch them and not be happy!)
She adores taking long walks with her husband and running after her two rambunctious kids. She has traveled extensively (all seven continents except Antarctica) and has a multi-cultural upbringing. She speaks two and a half languages and binge watch TV shows when the mood strikes.
Aja has a Bachelor’s of Arts in Comparative Literature and Economics and two Master’s degrees, one of which is in East Asian Studies.
LAKOTA HONOR (book 1): In the small town of Willow Creek, Colorado, Nora Rushton spends most of her days locked up in her home with a father who resents her and fighting off unwanted marriage proposals from the wealthy Elwood Calhoun. Marked as a witch, Nora must hide her healing powers from those who wish to destroy all the witkowin—crazy women. What she doesn’t know is that a bounty hunter is hot on her trail.
Lakota native Otakatay has an obligation to fulfill. He has been hired to kill the witkowin. In a time when race and difference are a threat and innocence holds no ground, courage, love and honor will bring Nora and Otakatay together as they fight for their freedom. Will the desire to fulfill his promise drive Otakatay to kill Nora? Or will the kindness he sees in her blue eyes push him to be the man he once was?
BLOOD CURSE (book 2): Four years after the Blood Curse, Pril of the Peddlers vows to protect her child against the evil men who hunt her. With her clan unaware of the branded girl among them, Pril has to keep the identity of her daughter a secret. When her child is kidnapped, she is forced to ask Merchant runner, Kade Walker, for his help.
Kade Walker needs to find the gypsy child. Blackmailed and pushed beyond his own moral code, he is determined to do whatever it takes. When he comes across the Peddler clan, he is sure the girl is there, however all hope is lost when the gypsies capture him. Time is running out—until Pril makes him an offer he cannot refuse.
Amidst greed, lust, revenge and love, Pril will need to trust Kade. But as the evil nears and doubt creeps in, will she discover that the enemy has been standing next to her all along?
SACRED LEGACY (book 3): Desperate to escape the memories that haunt her, Tsura Harris returns to Jamestown, the very place her mother forbade her to go. A gifted Chuvani, Tsura has sworn off all magick, thus making her vulnerable to the Renoldi clan, who wish to kill her and take the pendant that is the key to her power.
Red Wolf is hell-bent on living his life on the sea, until he runs into Tsura on the docks. His pride wounded from her rejection years before, he hoped to never see her again. But when the evil Corsair, Romulus Black, demands to know where she is, Red Wolf must protect her, as is his duty.
But is duty and honor his only reason, or does Red Wolf still carry a flame of love in his heart? And will Tsura finally discover her destiny?
Kat Flannery is a very powerful storyteller and this series is a testament to her skills as a writer.
– Jan Baldocchi, Goodreads Reviewer
Ms. Flannery has crafted a deeply heartrending tale.
– Kristy McCaffrey, Goodreads Reviewer
SPECIAL PRE-ORDER PROMOTION!!!
With every pre-order of the Branded Trilogy:
– You will receive 3 novellas for FREE, courtesy of Imajin Books
– Your name will be entered into a draw for a ruby necklace (similar to the one in Blood Curse and Sacred Legacy) and author swag. (Drawing of winner will be on Oct 1.)
Kat Flannery’s love of history shows in her novels. She is an avid reader of historical, suspense, paranormal, and romance. She has her Certificate in Freelance and Business Writing.
A member of many writing groups, Kat enjoys promoting other authors on her blog. Kat loves to teach writing classes and give back to other aspiring authors. She volunteers her time at the local library facilitating their writing group. She’s been published in numerous periodicals throughout her career.
Her debut novel CHASING CLOVERS has been an Amazon Top 100 Paid bestseller twice. LAKOTA HONOR, BLOOD CURSE, and SACRED LEGACY (Branded Trilogy) are Kat’s three award-winning novels and HAZARDOUS UNIONS is Kat’s first novella. Kat is currently hard at work on her next series, THE MONTGOMERY SISTERS.
Andie Taylor is your average single mom. She’s got a beautiful toddler, a great job at the local preschool, a neurotic best friend and one huge secret—she used to hunt vampires. Now retired, Andie would much rather be wiping kid snot off her clothes than stalking the undead.
But after a meteor rips through her small town, strange things start happening—like the school janitor is found dead with fang marks in his neck.
Andie’s retired, it’s not her problem.
Until vampires attack Andie on her front lawn. Now she has to figure out who the head bloodsucker is and stop him from taking any more victims—all while juggling single motherhood, a crazy great aunt, and Andie’s own lust for a fallen angel. Can she solve the mystery before the vampires claim someone else? Or will she become the next target of the bloodsuckers?
“Expect the unexpected, especially when it comes to relatives.”
—The Witch’s Handbook
My great-aunt Dot decided to poof into my life at the exact same moment I was talking my best friend down from the comet-pocalypse that was about to hit our town.
Literally—on both fronts.
I waved away a shimmering cloud of silver dust and came face-to-face with a pink-haired, feather-jacket-wearing seventy-year-old.
“Andie, get off the phone.” Aunt Dot pulled off a pair of matching feather gloves and tossed them on a side table by my turquoise front door.
I placed a hand over the receiver. “I’ve told you a thousand times, I don’t want you working magic in my house.”
“We’ve got bigger fish to fricassee than your stupid rules.”
“I don’t want Gabby to see.”
Dot’s blue eyes sparkled. “Oh? Where is the little munchkin?”
I nodded toward the bedroom. “In there. Sound asleep.” I wagged a finger at her. “Don’t you change that.”
My newly acquired geriatric companion shuffled off to not wake my two-year-old daughter, who happened to be the love of my life. I sighed and put the phone back to my ear.
Kate panted into the line. “It’s the end of the world, Andie! I just know it.”
I grimaced. Kate McCall, my best friend and cohort in crime, pierced my eardrum with her shrieks of the apocalypse.
“It’s not the end of the world,” I said soothingly.
“Go look. Missy Burke’s already rode down my street calling it that. If she says it’s the end, then it probably is. That woman’s got her finger on the pulse of this town.”
“More like her nose up its rear end,” I said.
“Andie. Be nice.” Kate paused. “Never mind. I love you the way you are.”
I opened my front door and stepped out. A cold October wind ripped over the porch. I rubbed my arms to warm them. Boards in desperate need of a fresh coat of paint creaked under my ballerina flats.
A shiny full-size Ford pickup truck grunted down Cedar Street in my small hometown of Normal, Alabama. The driver bore down on the horn, threw her head out the window and yelled, “It’s the end of the world, y’all! The Lord’s coming in a comet to set y’all straight.”
Missy Burke was nothing if not informative. Dark hair trailed behind her like snakes as the wind whipped across her face.
She pointed at me. “Say your prayers, Andie Taylor. The Lord sees you. He knows where you’re going when you face judgment.”
Which I took to mean I wasn’t going to be standing beside her in heaven. If you asked Missy, she was the most perfect person on the planet and one of the few who’d get through the pearly gates.
I gave a friendly wave. “He sees you, too, scaring the good folks in this town half to death. You should be ashamed of yourself, Missy.”
Missy scrunched up her face and swatted at me as if I didn’t matter.
“Missy Burke just told me I was going to hell,” I said over the line.
“I’ll probably see you there,” Kate said. “I don’t think I prayed enough, Andie. St. Peter’s going to tell me I need to turn right back around and go the other way.”
I laughed. “That’s not going to happen. You’re a great person. St. Peter’s going to be excited to have you.”
With Missy gone, the night had quieted but for a white light shining in the distance. It looked like a star except it was getting bigger by the moment. “It’s a comet. Nothing to worry about.”
“It’s pretty bright. It’s going to hit my house.”
“Listen, I’ll keep an eye on it. If it looks like it’s going to destroy your house, I’ll call you.”
“Thank you. Mwuah.” She kissed the phone. “You’re the greatest friend in all the world.”
We hung up, and I went inside, immediately wondering if I had any chocolate in the house. I entered the kitchen, opened the fridge and found a bottle of syrup. Dot’s presence always stressed me out. I flipped the lid and squirted some in my mouth.
Better. Now I was ready to face my great-aunt. I crossed back to the living room.
Dot entered and started zipping up all the blinds.
“What are you doing?” I said.
“We’ve got to keep an eye on that comet. It’s not a natural phenomenon, Andie. It’s something magical.”
“It’s always about magic with you,” I mumbled. “Did you show up just to make my life complicated?”
Dot plumped her pink hair. “Of course not, but you’re a hunter and a witch. It beats me why you won’t use your powers.”
I crossed my arms and leaned against the front door. “Was a hunter. Witchcraft causes more problems than it’s worth. You of all people should know that.”
Dot withered a bit. I instantly felt a pang of guilt, but the truth was the truth.
“Mom died because of magic.”
Dot shook her head. “Your mother died because she called something she couldn’t control. It nearly killed all of us.”
I flared my arms. “That’s in the past. I don’t need magic and I don’t want it. My life is perfectly normal exactly as it is, and I want to keep it that way.”
Neither of us said anything. I waited a moment, letting the tension in the room dissolve.
Dot shrugged off her jacket and threw it on a chair.
“You’re not staying long, are you?” I said.
Please, don’t let her be staying long.
She plopped onto the couch and kicked up her feet. “I don’t know yet. Depends on what that comet brings.”
“How about some stardust and that’s it.”
At that moment a Magic 8 Ball sailed into the room.
Dot threw up her hands in glee. “Vordrid! Finally, someone with sense.”
Vordrid sniffed. I know that as a Magic 8 Ball he didn’t technically have a nose, but that didn’t stop him from making sounds only a person with a head could create. “I’m twelve hundred years old. I should have some sense.”
Dot turned to me. “For someone who doesn’t want Gabby seeing magic, I don’t understand why you keep Vordrid.”
“Because Vordrid is family, and he doesn’t cause any trouble,” I said, nodding at her.
Truth be told, Vordrid was the only link I had to Dex, my husband, who’d died before Gabby was born.
An arrow of pain pierced my heart. I pushed it aside, doing my best not to fall into the pit of despair that was the longing I still had for Dex.
“I wouldn’t leave Andie if you gave me a crystal skull to live in,” Vordrid said. “And according to that Ancient Aliens show, crystal skulls possess lots of power.”
Vordrid had been my mentor in my hunter days. What’s a hunter, you ask? A select group of witches and wizards employed to seek out and destroy evil beings. Dex and I had specialized in vampires, though plenty of hunters tracked other magical creatures.
Vordrid was the only piece of that old life I’d kept.
The light outside brightened. Dot flew off the couch and to the window. “Quick! This is no ordinary comet.”
“As you’ve said.” I caught my reflection in the mirror above the mantel. My thick honey- and platinum-colored hair lay in sagging curls over my shoulders, and I had dark circles under each eye that even my cute fringe of bang couldn’t draw your attention away from. What I wouldn’t give for some stress relief.
Like a massage.
I yawned. “Wake me when it’s over.”
Dot glanced at Vordrid. “Can’t you do anything with her?”
Vordrid settled himself down on the coffee table. “What can I do with a witch who doesn’t want to be one?”
I smiled. “He’s pretty much right.”
Dot clasped her hands in frustration. “Andie, you must advocate for us. For your profession.”
“Dot, I’m a preschool teacher at Giving Trunk. I advocate for children every day.”
Yes, it’s trunk, not tree. I think there was some sort of infringement thing that kept the place from being called Giving Tree.
Dot choked on something. By the sound of it, I think it was frustration. “You’re a witch.”
“Was a witch. I don’t practice.”
Vordrid pivoted toward Dot. “I haven’t been able to do anything with her for years. Not since that night.”
Dot shook her head and glanced back at the comet. “I don’t have time for your piddling, Andie. It’s coming.”
“It’s not like it’s the end of the world,” I said.
Vordrid hopped a bit. “It could be. You know that’s what killed the dinosaurs.”
“Vordrid, it’s not the end of the world.”
“Stranger things have happened.”
I nodded. “Exactly. Like me living with the spirit of a twelve-hundred-year-old wizard who resides inside a kid’s toy.”
Vordrid rattled his shell. “As I said, stranger things.”
I rolled my eyes. “Thank you for reminding me. I’m going to check on Gabby.”
I padded into the small bedroom off the parlor and placed a hand in the crib. Gabby slept soundly. I pulled the covers down over her legs and made sure she was breathing.
Because that’s what all mothers do—we sporadically make sure that our children are still breathing because we’re a little mental that way.
The house started to shake. I pulled Gabby’s crib away from the wall to make sure nothing would fall on her and went back into the living room. A couple of picture frames tumbled from their place on the mantel.
“Magic,” Dot whispered.
“Natural phenomenon,” I shot back.
“I feel a disturbance in the force,” Vordrid said.
What the…? Seriously? Were they all against me?
I peeked out the window. Yellowish light filled the entire sky. People were coming out of their homes. I rushed back in to check on Gabby, and she was sleeping soundly. I glanced out the window as the comet flew over the street, scorching the tops of the trees.
A moment later it sounded like the world had split in two. A quake rocked the house. Knicknacks fell off the shelves to the floor. The shaking subsided as quickly as it started, and the night retuned to peace and quiet.
Except for the twenty car alarms blaring down my street. I guess the rumbling had set them off.
Gabby slept soundly. Thank goodness. Whenever she woke in the middle of the night, she would cry on and on. It was a nightmare trying to get her back to sleep. I had a feeling Dot may have had something to do with keeping her in slumber.
“I’m going to see what happened,” Vordrid said. His spirit lifted from the ball. It looked like strips of white gossamer as it zipped out the window.
I thought things might get back to normal in Normal for the rest of the night.
Silly me. I realized that wasn’t going to happen when Dot grabbed me by the shoulders and spun me around. Perched on my couch, licking its paw, sat a gray gargoyle. He wasn’t very big, about the size of a pound of flour, but he was still a creature that wasn’t supposed to be in my house.
“What the heck?” I screeched.
Dot pushed me forward. “It must’ve hitchhiked on my back when I came up from Patagonia.”
“Patagonia?” I said.
She wiggled her fingers. “I was there learning how to touch the sky. I must’ve touched something else instead.”
“Yeah, like a monster.”
The gargoyle stopped licking its paw. It opened leathery wings lined with veins, unhinged its mouth, and shot fire at us.
I ducked. “Oh dear Lord!”
“Stop it, Andie,” Dot said, pushing me forward.
I tried to scramble back, but she held me fast. “Why are you shoving me closer to it? Are you trying to fry me?”
Dot clasped my shoulders tightly. “You’re a hunter. Use your power!”
I pressed my heels into the rug, turned around and said, “Would you quit calling me that!”
Another spray of fire shot above our heads.
“Ah,” I screamed.
“You’re going to wake up Gabby,” Dot said, patting down her pink hair.
Holy crap on a stick. She was right. If I didn’t deal with this little turdball on my couch, the toddler would wake up and that would be a crying nightmare worse than my great-aunt visiting me.
I started to pull the energy from the room and bring it into my body. The small taste of power felt good. Almost a little too good, like when you haven’t eaten chocolate in a really long time because you’re on a diet. Then when you taste it, it’s like heaven melting on your tongue.
Yeah, that’s kinda what using my magic felt like.
Don’t worry; I wasn’t going to admit it to Dot.
Speaking of my great-aunt, I glanced over my shoulder. The look of glee on her face made me stop. Something smelled funny, and it wasn’t the streak of blackened ceiling that little monster had caused.
I walked over to the creature and crossed my arms. “Okay, how much is my aunt paying you for scaring me?”
The gargoyle frowned.
I rubbed my thumb over my fingers. “How much? Because what she didn’t tell you is, if I use my power, you will turn to dust. I suggest you get out of here before that money or gold or whatever seems like nothing when you’re sewing yourself back together.”
The creature opened his mouth and screeched. He flapped his wings and, half a second later, vanished in a purple cloud of magic.
I waved the air clear.
“You think you’re so smart,” Dot grumbled.
I grinned. “You almost had me.” I pinched my fingers together. “So close, but you know, there’s a reason why I don’t invite you over often. Oh, and fix my ceiling.”
Dot snapped her fingers, and the smudge disappeared. She clucked at me. “Your daughter needs to learn witchcraft.”
My nostrils flared. “Gabby won’t get her powers until she hits puberty—if she even gets them then. The magic could skip a generation. But until that time, I want Gabby to live a normal, happy life. Magic has taken too much from me—first my mother and then Dex.”
Dot plucked her shirt from the waistband of her jeans. “It wasn’t the magic, per se.”
I shot her a dark look. “It was because of the magic, and don’t you forget it.”
Dot clamped her lips shut.
Vordrid shot back into the house and twisted inside the ball.
I rubbed at the headache that had sprouted in my temples. “What’d you see?”
He jumped up and down, making the knickknacks on the table jumble. “It wasn’t a regular comet.”
“See?” Dot said. “Told you so.”
“It’s really annoying when people use that phrase,” I said.
“We’re related. I can use it as much as I want.”
Vordrid kept jumping. “If it had been a comet, I would’ve expected to see the meteor. But instead of a rock, there was a shape formed into the ground.”
I scratched the back of my head. “Really? A shape? That’s interesting.”
“It was interesting, Andie. Most interesting of all was the shape it had taken.”
“And what was that?” I said, half listening.
Vordrid cleared his throat. “The shape of a human.”
Dot smirked. “Something just landed in Normal. Get ready, Andie. This town is going to need a witch, and that witch is you.”
About the Author
Amy Boyles grew up reading Judy Blume and Christopher Pike. Somehow, the combination of coming of age books and teenage murder mysteries made her want to be a writer. After graduating college at DePauw University, she spent some time living in Chicago, Louisville, and New York before settling back in the South. Now, she spends her time chasing two toddlers while trying to stir up trouble in Silver Springs, Alabama, the fictional town where Dylan Apel and her sisters are trying to master witchcraft, tame their crazy relatives, and juggle their love lives.