Please enjoy a sample of Blood Awakening from the Awakening Series book two.
Blessed Mother give me strength not to put my foot in this woman’s… Kissera didn’t bother to finish the thought. The Blessed Mother had stopped listening to her centuries ago. Instead of committing violence against her human, Kissera grumbled while she organized items from the last shipment by dollar value. August meant the end of long nights selling overpriced tchotchkes to vacationing vampires. As Relic’s owner and Head Bitch In Charge, she belonged upstairs helping a new vamp select the perfect turning gift for a lairmate, not wasting precious nighttime hours in the basement with a human. HBICs didn’t do grunt work.
Windowless and walled with stones old as New York itself, Kissera spent as little time in the bowels of Relics as possible. The sterile, fluorescent ceiling lights couldn’t mask dark shadows hovering at the edge of her senses. Creepy.
“Angela,” Kissera said, whacking the crate next to her human with a hard slap,“what’s the next item? We have to finish this by dawn.”
Angela ignored her, choosing instead to pore over the packing slip with deliberate, painstaking accuracy.
“I know you’d rather be somewhere else. Me too.”
“Shove it, Kay,” Angela said. She threw a stack of papers on the floor, careless of how they fell.
“Godsdammit,” Kissera muttered. Angela had some nerve calling her by her nickname like everything was normal and they hadn’t been fussing at each other all night. “That was uncalled for. What’s got you so rattled?”
“You said you’d give me an answer this week.”
“What was the question again?” It was hard to keep up with all of Angela’s recent demands. Every night brought a new problem.
“Releasing me as your companion.” She stood, hands on hips, no nonsense face on.
“Oh, not this again.” Kissera cringed inside. She turned away to straighten up a stack of boxes. The storage room was a mess.
“You forgot, didn’t you?” Angela’s voice was full of unspoken accusation.
Kissera faced Angela with what she hoped was an apologetic look. She hadn’t meant to forget. Had it been a week already?
“I’ll be thirty-three tomorrow. You promised you’d have an answer by then. Have you even spoken to the council?”
“You know how going over there creeps me out. It’s too close to the big hole in the ground.”
Angela sucked her teeth. “You’re the most powerful vampire in Manhattan and you’re scared of a hole. It’s pathetic.” She stormed out the basement and up into the main show room.
In a blink, Kissera was behind her. “Spoken like a gods damned human.” To a human, it looked like she had a lot of power. She had a stable territory, a thriving business, and best of all, no enemies. Everything was perfect. Until last week when Angela asked to leave her.
“I heard that.”
“Good. Take a good, long listen to this.” Angela slammed the shop door. The bell overhead jangled with misplaced cheer.
Three weeks later Angela hadn’t returned. She wasn’t holed up in the apartment above the store. She wasn’t in Miami with her parents, or Havana with her grandparents. Her friend Patrick hadn’t heard from her and they spoke or saw each other every day. This was the longest fight she and Kissera had had in ten years. A week or two to blow off steam was fine. This? Unacceptable. Rude. Not like Angela at all.
Kissera walked past the overgrown park on Grand Street, a crumpled letter in hand. She’d put off the inevitable long enough. Time to head north. It only took seconds to gather her will. Small gusts of warm air swirled under her feet and Kissera lifted into the sky. These days there were few people around at night to see. The summer breeze caressed her skin as she floated past darkened buildings. Before the Incident on Fifty-Seventh Street, as locals called it, the area would have hummed with the soothing chaos of city life. Sirens, horns and shouting blended together in a comforting ambiance. Angela loved the sounds of the city.
Kissera’s flight faltered. No, she loves the city. Past tense meant Angela was dead, a thought Kissera refused to entertain. She plunged several feet, the heel of her boot scraped the edge of a roof. A cluster of rat-sized beetle scavengers clicked in annoyance. They used to live in the sewers, but now fed in the open. Nasty creatures, but they weren’t the reason behind Angela’s disappearance.
Every now and then Kissera saw lights in a window or heard the squeal of tires on concrete, but the post-Incident streets were too quiet. A sinister vibe hung over a once vibrant city. Five years after a giant demon sprouting lethal tentacles and spurting acid spit attempted to break out of Hell, New York was a shadow of its old self.
Kissera shuddered in the warm August air. She switched west, to avoid Midtown. The change in direction took her toward the bright lights of Times Square. Flashing neon signs announced a smaller, but active, theater scene. Nothing stopped the visual overload of the Crossroads of the World; that was something, at least.
Above Forty-Sixth Street, the Manhattan streets slipped back into darkness mirroring the downtown area. Kissera headed further west to the West Side Highway toward a small beam of light on the top floor of a building by the Hudson.
Typical of their status, rich humans abandoned the Big Apple at the first sign of distress. The demonic invasion turned Manhattan into the new Detroit. Legal businesses fled to the outer boroughs or New Jersey. Others were determined to wait it out. Like residents in post-Katrina New Orleans, they didn’t know if or when help was coming, but they’d be damned if they’d abandon their homes and businesses. Resilience was one of the few things Kissera admired about humans.
She landed on the terrace of the penthouse duplex with a soft thud. Lights inside were dimmed, but a television played in the living room and empty wine glasses sat on a counter in the kitchen. Don’t these angels have any shame? Buy some damn curtains. There’s always someone watching. She followed the terrace around the entire first floor, then took a short staircase up to the second level. Vad i helvete! She did not need to see naked angel ass first thing in the evening. Although it was kind of fascinating how they did all that without the wings getting in the way.
“It’s hard to look away, isn’t it?” A man behind her spoke Swedish. Kissera whipped around to face him while trying to figure out what he said. Besides random phrases, her Swedish was shit. Wait, how did he know what she was thinking?
“Who the hell are you?” Kissera switched to English. Trying to decipher Swedish made her head hurt.
He lounged on an outdoor chaise as if it were high noon instead of midnight. “A friend. Who are you?” he asked with a crooked smile.
Kissera stared back. “Business associate.”
The man rose from the chaise in one quick, graceful movement. Brilliant. Not as in smart. This guy literally glowed. A thin, yellow light outlined his body, wings and all. Out of habit she looked at his feet. They were manicured and clean even though he wore no shoes. A shirt was also optional. He stretched his wings and Kissera shielded her eyes and blinked a few times.
“Turn it down, will ya?”
“Apologies,” he said. The lightshow dimmed, but his wings were no less glorious, large and full in all shades of gold, from the deepest yellow bullion to a pale, near-white threading that glittered even though no light hit it.
“They’re going to be awhile. Care for a drink?” With a sweep of a wing, he gestured toward a decanter of amber liquid sitting on the table next to the chair.
Kissera ignored the question, mesmerized by his wing. She’d never seen anything like it, and she’d seen her fair share of wings. His was shimmering and golden and stunning. She was speechless.
“Didn’t your mother tell you it’s impolite to stare?” He handed her a tumbler.
Kissera scrunched up her nose and turned away. Bitter enough to burn your taste buds, demons of all kinds drank Malort like water, but it made her nauseous.
“No, that wouldn’t suit you, would it, vampire?” He walked around her, sniffing. After one turn, he stopped. “Huh.”
“I don’t have time for this. I need to see Charouth. Her sexy times will have to end early.” Kissera headed for the terrace door. An invisible force pushed her back.
“I told you, they’re busy.”
“I don’t give a–” She tried to move toward the door, but remained stuck.
“If you promise to behave, I’ll let you go.”
The pressure keeping her in place eased. Time for her to do a little forcing of her
own. “Don’t tell me what to do.” She threw all of her will toward him. Their power met mid-air in a mass of sparks.
“Well, my-my-my,” he said. “That clears up one thing.”
Free of his invisible trap, Kissera raised a hand and motioned toward the man. Resistance. He wouldn’t budge.
“Relax. Join me over here. We can talk about what your demon/vampire hybrid self is doing looking for an angel.” He returned to the chaise. “It’s also safe from their shenanigans. Unless you like to watch.” He winked.
Who even did that these days?
She didn’t know a lot of angels, but this one stood out. Angela might have spoken of him before. Kissera should have paid more attention. A little more angel knowledge would have come in handy right about now.
Kissera frowned at the thought of her perky companion. Angela had been missing for almost a month. This was different than any of their previous spats. The night after their argument, Kissera arrived at Relics and found a black stain on the floor in the storage room. The sticky residue smelled of burnt rubber. Her vampire senses found no other clues.
After searching Angela’s usual haunts, even the places she didn’t think Kissera knew about, Charouth was a last, but necessary resort. One she dreaded. Blessed Mother only knew why Angela befriended the winged bitch who wrecked Relics five years ago. Kissera made it a habit to be sparse when Charouth was around. Now, she broke that rule with great reluctance. She didn’t want to ask the angels for help, but they had powers she’d never possess. Like daywalking.
Tonight, Kissera woke to an email from the council. Someone had reported Angela missing. She had a week to prove Angela was alive or endure a more thorough investigation. The council hadn’t found out about the humans she killed in Relics five years ago and it had to stay that way.
“Come over here and keep me company.” He crooked his finger to beckon her over and his already high creep factor rose five more notches. “Tell me more about Angela. She sounds interesting.”
“Since when did angels read minds?”
“You still don’t know who I am? I’m hurt.” He frowned like a spoiled brat.
“Sorry,” she said with extra sarcasm.
“No, you’re not. What you are is something of a conundrum.” He stared at her with a disturbing intensity.
“Knock it off, weirdo.”
“Apologies. It’s because I’ve never met someone quite like you before.”
“A vampire? I find that hard to believe.”
He scoffed. “No, not that. The demon thing. It’s unique. Quite special.”
“There’s nothing special about me.”
“Mea culpa.” He bowed. Actually bowed! “I was curious and that happens so rarely these days. I am sorry to have caused you such distress. Let’s forget about it and meet anew.” He handed her a tumbler of Malort.
“I’m still not drinking that swill.”
“No? Hmm. Damn. Guess I was wrong about your demon side being dominant.”
He appraised her like a priceless gem, then his eyes widened and he brought a perfectly manicured hand to his mouth. “Isn’t this something? I wasn’t expecting that at all. I mean a demon/vampire hybrid is unusual. A Shidarian? Well, you’re off the charts. We thought you went extinct eons ago.”
“I’m not a dodo.” Kissera crossed her arms and glanced at the sky. The night was half over and she didn’t have another to waste. If Charouth wasn’t available, maybe Mr. Glow Stick would help. Godsdammit, she was desperate. “Maybe you could help me.”
He clapped his hands like a little kid about to get a treat. “Let me guess. You want me to undo the vampirism so you and Angela can grow old together. That’s not possible, but I bet I could get it down to a manageable state if you let me pick your brain.”
“I didn’t come to Charouth about my vampirism.” Kissera had made her peace with that long ago. It was what it was. “It’s my companion. She’s missing.”
“You’re sure she didn’t run away?”
“Duh. Covered that already. Free range companions aren’t a thing, you know.”
“Don’t get all bent out of shape. I had to ask. If you let me read your mind, we can skip the irrelevant.”
She side-eyed him. “I don’t even know your name. I’m sure as hell not gonna let you rummage around my brain.”
He offered a hand to shake. “Lucifer, the Lightbringer. Morningstar, if you’re nasty.” He winked again.
By the blood, she’d just met the devil, and he was an idiot. Ridiculous. Obnoxious. Kind of charming. Kissera sighed and shook his hand.
“Just my luck to meet Satan on a terrace.”
“No, no, no.” He shook his head and wagged a finger at her. “Not me. I. Am. Not. Satan.”
“Uh-huh. Yeah, right.”
“I would think with your background, you’d bother to get it straight. Especially given the demon clientele of Relics ”
“Stay outta my head.”
“Demon gossip is even more unreliable than human. If you don’t like your rep, stop being evil.”
“I don’t care about my reputation. Calling me Satan is wrong. Plain and simple.”
Hmm. Someone sure was annoyed. Kinda made her do a little happy dance. Piss off Satan. Sure, why not? “Who knew Satan would be so sensitive?” she mocked. Lucifer’s eyes flashed. The glow around him brightened. Fingers of heat brushed her cheeks. Kissera stepped back. Uh-oh. Too much?
“The Queen of Hell is a humorless bitch,” Lucifer said. “I am neither humorless, nor a bitch.” He paused. “So, you want my help or not, vampire?”
“What do you want in return?”
He waved her question away. “Let us come to an agreement. You don’t mention the Dark One anymore and we can get on with your task.”
“Okay. First, you can interrupt the lovebirds so I can get Charouth on board. She’s friends with Angela and will want to know what’s happened.”
“Forget about Charouth. Whatever she can do, I can do better. I’m one of Satan’s top repo men. If I can’t find Angela, no one can.”
Kissera looked from Lucifer toward the glowing lights of Jersey across the river. “One condition.”
“No more invading my head. It’s rude. I won’t have it.”
“I could do it and you wouldn’t even notice.”
“Are you that much of an asshole?”
“Fine. I promise not to be an asshole.”
“And what else?”
“I won’t read your mind without permission.”
Kissera ran a hand through her hair. It was against her better judgment, but she was out of options. “Okay, Lucifer. You got a deal.”