After being almost killed by silver poisoning, I’m recovering nicely. Most people think vampires are immortal, and I can understand why with how long our kind can normally exist. But if you can be killed by any means, then you aren’t technically immortal, right? I prefer the term semi-mortal. Lord knows I’ve certainly killed more than my fair share of vampires, and I can attest that we are not immune to death.
I stretch on the chaise lounge, gazing up at the late afternoon cloud coverage revealed by the clear atrium panels above me. It’s a nice winter day in late June, three weeks after I escaped from capture, off the southeastern coast of Argentina, and a semblance of peace finally fills me.
Drew, one of the vampires in my seethe, or vampire family, strides into the inner garden of our large Spanish-style hacienda and clears his throat. “Vivian,” he says, calling me by the nickname most everyone uses instead of my real name, Dria, short for Alexandria. “Do you really think shipping us home to Alaska is the best idea? We all want to stay and help.”
I glance up at the tall, slender man, noting his healthy hue and the sexually satisfied air about him. Judging by the noises drifting from his suite every night since our return to the island, he and Chelly have been exploring their new relationship status, vampire and servant, every chance they’ve had.
“You’re not strong enough for this fight, Drew, and neither are the others. I appreciate your loyalty and decision to stay to see things through, but I won’t risk your safety for my own.”
Frustration appears to simmer beneath his smooth facade. “I take it there’s nothing I can say or do to prove we’d be an asset?”
I rise from my comfortable spot on the lounge chair. “Think about it—you might be a help, but what about the others? Can you say the same for any of them?” I angle my head and go for a low blow. “Could you live with yourself if your desire to protect your master led to their deaths? Would you sleep well during the day knowing Chelly died before she had to?”
Drew’s handsome face crumples, his noble intent twisting within. “Not fair, Viv. Not fair. Dammit!” He paces away before whipping around to face me again. “Deep down, I know you’re right, but that doesn’t mean I have to accept it without complaint.”
I walk toward him, reaching out a hand in comfort. My grip rests lightly on his forearm as I push my will into him, not quite using my full manipulator traits that can sway any vampire to my way of thinking, but I give him a mental shove past his immediate anger to offer clear thinking. “I know where your heart lies, and I don’t mean regarding Chelly. I know you would fight to the death beside me, without hesitation. But I have need of you elsewhere.” His brow quirks up in question. “You will be the one to protect all I hold dear. You will be the strongest left in Alaska should trouble befall them while I’m gone.”
Irritation at my words spills into his tone. “What good will I be in Alaska during the summer? I’d be living indoors and traveling via the tunnels the entire time.”
“Do you really think a vampire weakened by the sun is still not strong enough or clever enough to protect those who matter to him? Do you think a man, or group of men, could outwit you at your lowest? You are over a century and a half old, Drew. By no means are you on the same level—in any sense—as Paul or the werewolves.”
He smiles. “I see exactly what you’re doing, you conniving woman. Building me up to make me feel important with what you want me to do. All right, I’ll go quietly—whether I agree with you or not about how much good I’ll be while cooped up inside.”
“Good. Now, onto the more important question: Do you trust Paul to share the flying duties home with you?”
“Uh… no, not yet. But either way, we can’t fly during the day.”
I smile, glad the issue of them leaving will be dropped. “Not to worry. I’ve arranged for several top-notch pilots you can pick up in Buenos Aires.”
Once Drew departs, I return to the personal suite I usually share with my human husband, intending to do some yoga. The stretching and muscle work has helped realign my spiritual balance with the physical healing. Thanks to Rafe, I’ve fully regained my strength from the silver trauma a few weeks ago.
The ones responsible for my imprisonment and torture, Coraline and her cohorts, were killed by my husband in a brutal display of his defensive nature. Only one man—Rolando—remains for us to track down in Buenos Aires. Hopefully, finding him will put an end to the hunt for other manipulator vampires like me. As far as I know, I’m still the only one who has escaped extermination over the last few centuries.
While I rested and recovered, Rafe explored the underbelly of the Argentine city extensively, making sure his casual occupation stayed unnoticed by the ruling Tribunal of Ancients. His protective instincts toward me have barreled to the surface, and I’ve found I rather like this side of him.
After the worst of my damage was healed through copious amounts of blood and lots of deep restorative sleep, the dead-to-the-world type only the undead can take, we split up—him staying in the city to investigate, and me journeying back to our island off the coast of southeastern Argentina to tend to the family of caretakers. Their minds needed delicate fixing from the damage done by the same people who tried to kill me.
The island caretakers were not harmed permanently, and I have to admit, what was done to their minds was so subtle it didn’t require much effort on my part to repair. The island hideaway they help keep in tip-top shape is where we spend most of the Argentine winter, only venturing to Buenos Aires when there’s a big Tribunal shin-dig.
But this year was different.
Not only did we initially arrive weeks earlier than normal, with most of our new seethe traveling with us, but now we’re sending Drew, Chelly, and the others home to Alaska during the region’s summer months—which is typically singe and die season for vampires above the Arctic Circle. The extensive tunnels and safeguards built into the resort will keep the returning vampires alive, so I’m not worried on that end. They’ll be safe and—by the end of the long stretches of seemingly never-ending daylight—bored with cabin fever.
I’m sure Asa, the ex-military vampire responsible for the resort’s security, will be happy to have them back. Recently, he’s had his hands full with helping to exorcise ghosts at the inn. The apparitions were of the humans and supernaturals who’d died during the past year’s adventures. By the lighter lilt in his voice during our last conversation, it sounded like Asa may have found a female diversion this summer, too. Good, the man needs to let someone in.
Sending them home while Rafe and I get to the bottom of things here is the smartest solution. I will not let guilt sway me.
In the end, it was the others and not Drew who protested nonstop about returning home last night, tempting me beyond belief to force them to my will, but I managed to resist and smile benignly during their blathering.
Above all, Rafe and I need to focus on finding Rolando and putting an end to this drama. Having the others here, even if they stayed on the island and not in the direct path of my enemies, could be dangerous—not to mention a distraction I don’t want to take on. I’d worry about their safety.
Someone could succeed in finding them again, even on our tiny middle-of-nowhere island, to use against me. In comparison, the inn is more of a secure, secluded fortress than many of them realize. It’s the perfect place to await an enemy, especially when you know the property as well as we do.
Doubt creeps into me and I squash it, determined not to second guess my resolve regarding Jon and our plans to fly him down. As an alpha werewolf, he would be the best choice to stay and safeguard the seethe at the inn. But, whether I like it or not, I need him here by my side, to hunt down Rolando.
What prompted a hidden sect within the Tribunal—one hell bent on tracking and killing manipulators, a rare breed of vampire thought long exterminated—to hunt me down?
Has the story of Coraline’s tampered memories, which I was responsible for on her last visit to Alaska, spread among their supporters? Did I reveal myself unknowingly through another channel? Has my arrogance in always assuming I could handle anything thrown my way with a simple bending of my will finally backfired on me?
How did they know to look for me? Who pointed them in my direction? Have others, vampires older than me, suspected my secret for centuries and yet never acted to eliminate me? And if yes, why? Was it out of fear, or with the hope to someday use me and my skills to their advantage?
I shake my head, eager to dispel the uncharacteristic self-doubt. The wondering of why and how my hidden traits have been discovered is not important. Tracking down those who wish me harm and killing them is.
Resolve swells within me, strengthening with the deep breath I draw into my lungs. I will find those responsible. I will secure the safety of those pledged to me. I will—
My cell rings, cutting off my internal diatribe.
The screen reveals it’s Rafe. I grab the device and answer it. “Yes? Why are you calling me on the phone?” Referring to his choice to use technology rather than connect with me telepathically, as he usually does.
“Your thoughts were all over the place. And growing rather dark, truth be told. I thought calling you might snap you out of it better than rudely barging into your private musings.”
“Fine. I was also thinking of Jon—did you catch those thoughts, too?”
“Yes, and you’re right. We do need him here. He’ll be an asset more than a hindrance, I think. When can he get here? And will you have him fly to the city or the island?”
I bite my lip, ruminating on his questions. “He’s schedule to leave in a few hours, and will arrive late tomorrow. I think having him journey directly to Buenos Aires would be the smartest use of time. I’ve chartered a plane and will fly in tonight.”
“Good. Did the others leave already?”
“Yes, last night, right as the sun went down. They had a brief stop in the city to pick up more pilots.”
“Time to do what we mentioned months ago—‘beard the lion in his den.’”
I snort, unable to contain the sarcasm waiting to escape. “Oh yes, that worked so beautifully for us last time, didn’t it?”
“Hey, things didn’t go as planned, I’ll grant you that, but any battle you can walk away from with your life is considered a win, trust me.” A teasing note enters his voice. “Are you sure you’re not more annoyed that I did most of the killing and maiming this time?”
Flashes of blood and dismembered bodies skitter across my mind, small glimpses of what I recall from when I awoke in the underground rooms beneath the Tribunal headquarters, also known as the Seat of Darkness and the base of all vampire kind.
Rafe’s actions may have surprised our new seethemates who were with him, Drew and Paul, but I’ve known what my husband is capable of for a very long time. “I don’t think that’s it. Or more accurately, I don’t think that’s the only thing.” A sigh escapes me. “I think we walked into a bigger mess than we bargained for, and I’d rather make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
“We can’t begin to formulate a plan of attack until we’re well aware of who our enemy is and where they’re located. The basic knowledge of where the Tribunal lies is not enough. Who else is visiting this season? Are all the ancients in attendance or are some traveling? Where do they stay during their restorative sleep—meaning a private residence or in the extensive underground holdings of the Tribunal?”
He’s not saying anything we haven’t discussed before, so I redirect and ask about recent developments. “Have you had any luck in tracking down Rolando?”
“No, none. And it’s damn frustrating, I can tell you that. The big bastard didn’t up and disappear, that’s for sure.”
“What about Justin? Have you discovered where he lives yet?”
“I’ve narrowed the wizard’s location down to a diverse barrio on the outskirts of San Telmo, one of the city’s older neighborhoods. But no set address. The area has lots of herbal shops with hard to find magical ingredients.”
“That sounds more like an ideal location for a coven of witches than a wizard.”
“Well, where would you have me start looking? Should I knock on the Tribunal’s door and ask where they hide their pet wizardling?”
A grunt of frustration seeps past my lips. “No. You’re fine. I almost hate to admit it, but tracking is better suited to Jon’s natural abilities than yours.”
“Oh yes, the furball. Do you plan to have him take his wolf form and sniff like a dog to track?”
“Come now, dear, don’t make this harder than it needs to be. He is a strength. He is a valuable asset to us.”
His voice tightens, showing his inner turmoil and anguish. “Who are you trying to convince—me or you?”
“You, you dork. I know I need him. Now more than ever. Suck it up, buttercup.” My voice deepens, taking on a husky tone. “It’s not like I want him the way I want you. He’s not the one I dream of every time I close my eyes. It’s not his love, his very essence of life, that brought me back from the edge of insanity and darkness,” I say, referring to the moment I nearly died and Rafe’s devotion and love saved me.
“Okay, you’ve made your point. I’ll play nice with the werewolf. Any hint or rumor he may have found a mate during last month’s big game hunting fiasco with all the werewolves?”
I shrug, realize he can’t see my movement, and say, “I’m not sure.”
“What? How can that be? How could you not be sure of what your vampire servant is doing at any given time?”
“You know I gave him distance when we left—and I don’t mean physically, I mean with our mental connection. He’s still there, in the back of my mind. But I’ve given him privacy, not wanting to intrude when he has the chance to be free of my influence for once.”
“Is that the best course of action when you claim to ‘need him’ now?”
“I’ll allow the connection to strengthen when he journeys here, but I want to keep some mental distance in place for him. He needs it. His uncontrollable obsessive desires were overcoming his waking thoughts, he needed the break to heal and find himself again.”
“All right, enough about the poor lost puppy. When did you say he’ll arrive?”
“Tuesday night. We’ll meet him at the airport in the city. How is the house hunting coming along?”
I hear the happiness in his voice. “I’ve found several suitable accommodations,” he says. “You’ll like them, I’m sure.”
A rush of images floods my mind. Stately residences in the posh neighborhoods near the heart of the city, rooms with high ceilings and ornate moldings, and hearths with big roaring fires.
“Good. I miss you, my darling. It’s only been two weeks and I still think it’s too long.”
“You’re just hungry for my blood, aren’t you?”
“Among other things…”
A gentle tingle of sensation indicates my husband’s mind reaching out to mine. And I miss you too, liebling. We’ll be together soon. Not to worry.