Authors: Mercy Walker
Copyright © 2012, Mercy Walker
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On the night her world ended, Katarina Boccherini flipped the “closed” sign over against the glass of the shop door and turned off the front window display lights. A lock of her wavy salt and pepper hair fell out of the bun she’d pulled it into and dropped to tickle her nose. Absently she pushed the hair back behind her ear and picked up some misplaced books to reshelf. She needed to balance the cash register and fill out the slip for the night deposit. She also wanted to check the online special orders and to sweep the floor.
But by the goddess she was tired.
Running a magic shop was more work than anyone would guess. She felt lucky that both her girls, Min and Andy, had gone into the family business with her. She’d be thankful when they got back tomorrow from the supplier convention.
She went behind the counter to take a look at the sales ledger, and gazed for a moment at the photograph of her girls that hung on the wall right above the cash register. It showed the two of them arm in arm, smiling ludicrously, both so young, so beautiful.
But she could feel the remnant energies, the mere shadow of a spell that still clung to the photograph, and it made her sad. It hid a secret, one that was now mixed in with all she loved most, which made it all the more important. Would she ever be able to tell them the truth? Or would they all be better off if the lie went on forever?
As if on cue her question was answered.
The door to the little shop blew open and banged against the wall, and the bell attached over it clanged madly. She turned and gasped, knowing the moment the cold, wintery air bit into her flesh that everything had just gone straight to hell. It was July, and the city of Augusta, Georgia was in the middle of a heat-wave. That meant only one thing:
Katarina turned to run. She cried out in surprise as she bumped into a display table with her hip. Jars of scented oils crashed onto the wooden floor. She stumbled but caught herself, her breath already showed in frosty, labored puffs. The air was so cold that the act of breathing hurt. She slipped through the beaded curtain and into the backroom. She slammed the heavy oak door shut and threw the deadbolt. The act of locking the door was the trigger for her extensive battlement of wards, and immediately she felt them spring into place, strong yet pliant, and lethal.
She’d no more taken one labored breath when the ice began to slide down the length of the door. The temperature in the room dropped as a gale of frozen air poured into the room from under the door. Katarina’s defenses hadn’t even slowed her down.
Should have known they wouldn’t.
This was not her home. There was no threshold for the wards to feed from. She gulped in a lungful of air and backed up as the ice flow spread into the room and encroached on her fast.
Only one chance…they’ll need help.
In a desperate rush she circled around her desk and reached into one of the drawers. She pulled out a silver dagger carved with ancient runes, a language no mortal was ever meant to read. In the gleam of the blade she saw the greenest eyes she’d ever seen looking back at her. A heartbeat later they were gone. She set it gingerly on the top of her desk and whispered one of her daughter’s names.
She darted back around the desk and stood straight and tall as she steeled herself. She was ready to fight, but knew it would be pointless. She had to endure what was to come.
And not tell the cold-hearted bitch a damn thing
Frozen mist billowed from under the door. Soon the room was lousy with it, obscuring her sight. Frost formed on her lips and eyelashes. Out of the mist came a smooth, chillingly close voice. “This doesn’t have to be unpleasant.”
Katarina chuckled, though just the sound of that inhuman voice made her entire body shake uncontrollably. Maybe she was in shock; it had to be well below freezing in the little room.
The voice whispered in her ear. “I know you’ve helped hide it from me.” The voice fulfilled its angry potential, biting into her mind. “That you helped
hide it from me!”
Katarina recoiled in pain. “I-I don’t know what you’re talking about…I’m just a—”
A witch!” The voice snapped, and glass jars all through the room shattered. Katarina covered her ears. “And in my cousin’s service.”
I could make you mine,” the cold air taunted and blew against her body like rough, uninvited hands. “Force you into
The simple truth of that statement tore through her body, and nearly made her scream with panic. Gasping for breath she pushed away the thought that she could just give in and tell her what she wanted to know, that she could end it. That the months of hiding, of the pressure she’d lived with every day since she’d made the pact could be over.
But just the thought of betraying one she loved so greatly filled her with fiery strength. She would never tell the bitch what she wanted to know. She would never betray her girls.
I serve no one.” She held onto the table she’d backed into, and though she couldn’t see it, she knew everything that was displayed on it. She turned and reached out for a pot filled with cellophane wrapped, pastel-colored balls of bath-salts. She swung back around and tried to pull off the cellophane wrapping when a hand materialized from the mist and grabbed her wrist. It pulled her arm up at a painful angle; so strong, so very strong.
She tried to free herself, but the hand only grasped her harder and became more solid as a shape materialized in the mist. A face came into sharp relief only inches from Katarina’s.
The Queen of Air and Darkness, Monarch of the Winter Court of the Sidhe, stood before her. Her long black hair was like writhing shadows; her lips were the color of frozen mulberries, and her skin as smooth and white as ice coated snow. But it was her eyes—the pale blue of a winter sky, cold and inhuman, their irises vertical slits like a cat—that made her look monstrous.
Katarina pushed back the tears that welled up in her eyes and the screams that wanted to tear from her throat. She would give the faerie no such satisfaction. The disembodied face smiled, closed her eyes and pulled Katarina near.
A whimper escaped Katarina’s lips an instant before they came in contact with the Queen’s cold, blue lips. She tried to take in a breath, but instead what air she had in her lungs was sucked from them. Her body flash froze and her life force, her very soul, pass out through her lips.
All fell black, time stopped, and the world went away.
Min rubbed her thumb and forefinger at her exhausted eyes, and closed yet another thick, overwritten and musty tome. She pushed the worn leather-bound book away. What was this, the third or the fourth book she’d read cover to cover this week? She was sick of these godforsaken books. The rancid moldy smell, the abrasive feel of the pages, the endless, cryptic,
words they held, not one of them delivering the answers she required, or the cure she needed.
It was well past midnight already, and she needed to get back to the store early the next morning. Even though her sister, Andy, would open tomorrow, she still needed to contact the druid in Paraguay who had the copy of
Pathways through the Ethereal Mists
up for bid on eBay. She needed it. Not to mention she needed to get on their supplier’s butt about how long it took for special orders to come in that month. It was ridiculous.
Another book sat inconspicuously not even an arm’s reach away, its cracked, green leather binding called out to her. It promised nothing, but there was always the chance that what she looked for, a cure for her mother at last, could be held within those tattered bindings.
Her body ached to go home, to fall into her bed and sleep. But her guilt was a force of nature. She needed to find out everything and anything that the book could tell her.
Just one more...
She’d reached out to pull the book to her when she heard a woman scream from outside the shop. Min rose, grabbed her coat, and rushed to the front door and pulled it open with a clamor of tiny bells. Well into January, the cold air bit into her flesh and forced her to hug her arms about her. She pulled her coat around her better and looked down to one end of the street—nothing. She turned the other way and a blonde in a long, thin black trench coat ran into her. The blonde’s purse fell to the ground where its contents scattered over the concrete of the sidewalk.
I’m so sorry,” the blonde sputtered.
Min was about to tell her to watch where she was going when she caught the look of terror etched across the woman’s face.
Are you alright?”
The blonde was scared out of her wits, and when Min knelt to help her gather the spilled contents of her purse, she sensed a wave of nauseatingly cold energy moving in fast toward them.
Min let her power taste that cold energy—vampire.
For three hundred years Luca had given in to the monster within him. He let himself enjoy the slaughter, to revel in it. And that was all he was now: a killer. Then five months ago something called to him: first the scent of blood so potent and delicious that his beast went wild with bloodlust; second, a whispered promise on the wind.
Peace…completeness…an end to your suffering.
He followed the elusive aroma across the country to Augusta, Georgia. The smell so intoxicating he could practically taste it. Once there, though, the smell went from permeating the entire city to vanishing altogether. Yet every time he tried to leave, the damnable scent would flare up again and his beast would hunt all the harder for its source.
Luca didn’t like this city. It was less populated than he preferred, and his prey less willing. He liked those humans who invite death to them, who call shadows and loss to hover around them like a shroud.
And he was hunting on that cold January night.
Luca heard the girl’s heartbeat quicken as she ran down the rain slicked street. Her blond hair was piled atop her head, whipping about like liquid fire; her high heels clicked a desperate rhythm as she ran away from him. She stank of fear—he didn’t blame her, she should be afraid.
Luca’s beast liked them that way.
It loved the taste of fear, how it lent spice to the blood. Fear imbued even the most mundane victim with the sweetest ambrosia. And the way adrenaline made the heart thump. One could drain a victim in seconds with no trouble at all.
The blonde was scared out of her wits and had been running for nearly two blocks. She was ripe with what he and his beast wanted most. And so young, barely twenty, her face smooth and lineless, her hair its true color, her body firm and supple and voluptuous. To take her would be a pleasure to treasure. But he knew he would feel remorse if he just ate her, sucking her dry in a flash to quench his hellish thirst.
He and his beast wanted to play with her first.
Maybe seduce her—
maybe in her very own bed—
her naked breasts heaving against his chest as he took her again and again. And then he’d feast on her love swooned blood until every last decadent drop was his.