A betrayed witch. A fractured past. A dark secret.
Just two months after her abduction, Alice Skye is ready to get back to her job as a Paladin Agent, tracking and detaining Breed by any means necessary. Even though bones have healed and bites have scarred, she’s no closer to the truth, and the one man who knows is nowhere to be seen.
Riley Storm has his own problems being heir to the Storm empire and a Guardian of the Order. So he keeps his distance from the unpredictable Alice Skye. Until he’s forced back into her life, whether she wants him to be or not.
As a vampire genocide shocks the city, Alice partners as the new liaison with the local authorities, the job an exciting opportunity that would help bridge the relationship between Breed and Norms for good. But Alice can’t help but feel there’s more to the dark murders, that maybe there's something bigger behind the lies and deceit.
Can Alice trust her instincts and stop the poison before more lives are taken?
Or will she be distracted as her life unravels once again?
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The black floor-length dress was modest, high in the neck but low in the back as she posed in front of the mirror. Alice knew as she walked that flashes of her legs would be seen through the almost indecently cut slits down each side. Not necessarily appropriate for a charity Gala, but perfect for being able to access the twin daggers strapped high on her thighs.
She hated shopping, which was why Sam was the one who went and purchased the dress specifically for the Gala.
He would make a great wife, she mused to herself.
A flash of light caught her eye, her favoured sword sitting where she left it a few months back.
According to Dread, it had been her mothers, a traditional blade passed down through the family. It was still bittersweet she never received it from her parents, that they would never be able to see her use it. She would never get to ask why the blade flashed with twinkly lights every time she now touched it, glowing runes that only appeared when she either stroked the steel or held the hilt. Writings she couldn’t understand.
It had never happened before. Not to her at least.
Not wanting to think about it, or the man who could also make the steel glow, she faced the mirror once again, glancing at the elegant lines of the dress as she applied a dark lipstick.
Struggling to do the zip she strode down the stairs into the living room, surprised to see Sam stretched out on the sofa half asleep in a way only a feline could. He let out a little sneeze, his eyes opening a slit as he appraised her outfit with a knowing smile. He really enjoyed shopping.
“Come here baby girl...” He motioned for her to stand before him, his movements lazy as he reached for the hidden side zipper.
“You look delish, all those rich snobs won’t know what hit them.”
“You know this is a work thing,” she said with a grin.
This was her first contract in months, well, technically it wasn’t a formal contract, but that couldn’t ruin her mood. She was joining a team of Paladins as security for the ‘Children of the Moon’ charity, an organisation that help young children who suffer from life-threatening illnesses caused by the vampira virus.
The Gala was held yearly in the Grande Hotel, a sizeable, flashy event that housed a handful of celebrities and local wealthy elites that used the limelight generated to showcase their own personal wealth.
“Does that mean they have cleared you from medical leave?” Sam asked as he started to play with her hair, curling it around his finger before pining it artfully into a bun.
“I’ve been cleared for weeks.”
Her doctor had cleared her healthy and strong enough to get back to work.
Dread on the other hand had disagreed.
She had asked daily to get back to the hunt, almost squealed in delight when he said he needed her for tonight.
“That’s it, you go have fun with the uber-rich while I stay home with Mr Shorty over there,” Sam sighed, stepping back to admire his work. “Bloody thing is back, almost gave me a heart attack.”
“What?” She looked at him like he was crazy. “Oh, you mean Jordan?”
“Aye,” he nodded towards the space beneath the stairs.
Following his gaze, she searched beside the cardboard boxes that still held some stuff they are yet to unpack. At this point, she had no idea what was in them, clearly something unimportant if they hadn’t noticed anything missing.
Beside one large box stood Jordan the gnome, his fists clutched tightly around a fishing rod, face frozen into a smile. With his blue coat, green belt and red-capped hat, they had no idea how he had gotten there. He just appeared one day and hadn’t left since.
She had tried to return Jordan to Al, his rightful owner on numerous occasions but the happy fisherman somehow always made his way back. Whether it was sitting by the tree in the garden, hiding in a cupboard in the kitchen or lying on the bottom of the bed, the gnome never left for long. They had no idea how it moved, just knew it could when no one was watching.
They tried not to think too much about it.
“What do you think, Jordan?” She twirled for the gnome. “Don’t I look sophisticated?”
Of course the gnome didn’t reply, just continued to smile wide.
“That good huh?”
“Stop playing with him, we’re trying to get it to go home,” Sam scolded.
“If you keep acknowledging it he might never want to leave.”
“Don’t be so silly. It’s an inanimate object.”
Just one that liked to move around on its own.
Sam snorted as he tilted his head to the side, his ear twitching.
“Your ride’s here.”
Sam moved towards the front door, opening it as Dread approached in a full black tux. Alice had been best friends with Sam for years, knew shifters mannerisms well but their heightened senses still amazed her. Something she wished she had.
Not that she disliked being a witch, but being able to see in the dark and hear great distances always seemed pretty cool, especially when she was on a contract.
Definitely could have used those skills a time or two.
Although, the whole shifting into an animal whose instinctual personality could take over seemed too much of an effort.
“Sam,” greeted Dread before turning his dark gaze towards Alice. “You look appropriate.”
“Wow, thanks,” she replied, deadpan.
“Now, young man,” Sam began in his poshest fake voice. “You will have her home by midnight?”
“Or what? She turns back into a hag?” Dread replied, his face unimpressed.
“A hag?” Alice cried. That’s bloody rude.
“How dare you insult her,” Sam responded, fighting to keep his face stern. “I’ll have you know she will turn back into a pumpkin.”
Alice noticed Dread’s mouth twitch, his dark eyes narrowing.
She scowled between them. “We ready to go?”
“Yes, follow me.”
Dread walked towards the black BMW that had pulled up out front of the house, a man dressed in a dark chauffeur’s outfit stood beside an open door.
“Take a seat, and I will brief you.”
Deciding not to comment on his abruptness, she slid in beside him, thanking the driver quietly as he closed the door behind her.
“Take this.” Dread handed her an earpiece, a small flesh-coloured ball that fit inside her ear. She moved her hair to disguise it.
“It has an inbuilt microphone. Once we get to the event it will be turned on, and you will be able to communicate both ways with Rose, Danton and a few security personnel.”
She sat there, fidgeting with excitement.
It had been several months of hospital appointments, physiotherapy and boredom. She knew if she didn’t get back to work she was going to combust. Sam had taken some time off to spend with her, which she was grateful for, but he never left her alone. While she appreciated everything he did to help her while she was recovering, he didn’t give her any alone time to figure out what was next. Even now, she wasn’t sure.
“You’re squirming,” Dread said, frowning. “What’s wrong?”
Oh, I’m just trying to figure out what the fuck I am.
She looked away, hoping he didn’t catch her internal dilemma from her expression. “It’s been a while since I’ve been useful.”
“You weren’t ready,” he stated, which was his usual response.
Weren’t ready, my arse, she hissed inside her own head.
Dread had always taught her to get on with life, regardless of what happened, and a lot had happened. Yet he stopped her from returning to work, wanting her to ‘take time to recover.’ As if sitting at home with an overbearing leopard would have helped.
“So what’s the plan for tonight?”
“The plan is for you to be my plus one.”
He double-checked his silver cufflinks.
“We are to clap at the appropriate moments and pretend to be interested in what everyone has to say.”
He turned to stare at her, his heavy eyebrows dominating his aristocratic features. His face was slightly flushed, the result of a recent feed that gave him an almost human look. It made him dangerous, even with the obsidian ovals he called eyes, ones so dark she couldn’t tell where the irises started and pupils began.
“A threat has been made against the charity patron Markus Luera, as well as some other members of the board. As a precaution Mistress Valentina has asked for some Paladins to be present.”
“Valentina? As in councilman Valentina?”
“Stay away from her Alice, she’s mean and powerful. You would likely upset her.”
“Upset her?” Alice questioned before she noticed his slight smile.
Upset her my arse.
“You are to pretend to be interested in the event as a guest, not security. You are to keep your eyes and ears open and communicate with the others without giving yourself away.”
The car jolted as it was driven across the cobblestones, getting closer to the red carpet Alice knew would be presented.
“As much of a pain you are with following orders you have a great eye for detail, it is why I have chosen you to act the part of a rich, charitable woman rather than staff.”
Alice fought not to beam at the compliment, had to chew the inside of her cheek to stop from grinning like a maniac. She didn’t usually need vocal recognition of her ability, she knew she was good. At least, good enough to have not gotten herself killed. But Dread didn’t do compliments.
“Tell me more about this threat.”
A proud smile curled Dread’s lips.
“The threat was received anonymously a few days ago, no signature or prints. A typed warning stating that Mr Luera is the intended target.”
“Target of what?”
“That is what we’re here to figure out.” A friendly voice spoke gently into her ear.
Alice felt herself smile.
“How come you get to be all prim and proper?”
“Just lucky, I guess.”
Alice felt the car slow.
“Bonjour, ma petite sorcière. I see we are no longer slacking, non?”
“D, nice to hear from you too. You guys found anything yet?”
Lights flashed beyond the darkened window, silhouettes moving behind the glass.
“No, the guests have only started to arrive.”
“Radio silence please,” Dread said as the car came to a complete stop. “Alice, remember to smile.”
The red carpet was already full of tuxedos and evening gowns, paparazzi trying to syphon through the guests to the celebrities.
Walking slowly down the carpet on Dread’s arm she stopped and smiled at the reporters asking him questions, her gaze sweeping across the crowd.
Faerie lights had been draped between the streetlights, creating a fallen star’s effect that was eerily beautiful against the darkness of the sky. The red carpet was a darker red than she anticipated, the fine fabric a flutter of activity from the flashes of the photographers.
Gently escaping from Dread’s grasp she made her way towards the entrance of the hotel, not wanting to take attention away from anyone else.
The interior of the hotel was just as beautifully decorated as the outside, a selection of large round tables had been placed around the edges of the grand room, all draped in white linen with silver candelabras. Located at the centre was a large wooden floor placed in front of a pop-up stage. A podium was set up between two large display stands, displaying the Children of Moon’s logo as well as a selection of photographs.
Accepting a glass of champagne from one of the wait staff Alice placed herself with her back against one of the walls, able to see the entrance as well as all the guests already walking around.
People chatted amongst themselves, ball gowns and tuxedos mingling as each person tried to compare their wealth of diamonds and expensive watches. Alice recognised a few familiar faces from television, a well-known architect as well as a famous movie actress. The Mayor of London was chatting happily to someone beside the stage, his big gut bursting at the seams of his tuxedo.
“You must be the infamous, Alice Skye.”
Alice spun towards the woman who spoke, her dark hair blending into the black ball gown she wore on her tiny frame.
Standing at barely five feet, Valentina looked nothing like Alice thought she would, her black boatneck dress emphasising her flawless pale skin with a fitted bodice flowing into a floor-length silk skirt. She looked almost like a child playing dress up.
“Councilman,” Alice greeted, nodding her head gently.
“Dread has told me so much about you.” Valentina smiled, her ruby red lips tipped at the corner. Alice fought her instincts to step back from the predator’s smile.
This woman is powerful.
“All good things I hope.” Alice met her eyes, her smile wavering as she saw the sombre depths. She thought Dread was old, but this was…
“Alice, it is time to take a seat.”
Dread interrupted, grasping her arm and pulling her toward a table.
“Mistress Valentina, I hope you make time for me later, we have much to discuss about your trip to London.”
“Bonsoir Commissioner Grayson, I was just speaking to your Alice.” Her smile was full this time, fangs peaking as white tips against her lips. “It is rude to interrupt us women, non?” A gentle laugh. “How is my youngling doing? He only has praise for you and the organisation.”
“Your watchdog is doing well.”
“As expected,” Valentina nodded. “My Danton has been with me for centuries, I do miss him back in Paris.”
Watchdog? Alice thought, sipping her champagne. Danton’s her watchdog?
“If you trust me to do my job, then you should be able to remove your mole from my Tower.” Dread forced a smile.
Valentina let out a laugh.
“Mon ami, we wouldn’t have put you in such a prestigious position if we didn’t trust you,” she said, dark eyes narrowed.
“Alice, be careful of the Mistress,” Danton spoke quietly in her ear, careful for the other vampires not to overhear. “Do not underestimate her.”
She fought not to reply in anger, only remembering at the last minute he wasn’t actually in the conversation. How long has he answered to Valentina? Where were his loyalties? She did a quick sweep of the room, trying to find him among the staff.
“Please, take your seats,” a mechanical voice asked.
“Ah.” Valentina reached out to touch Alice’s hand, her palm cold as she gave it a little squeeze.
“It looks like we are almost ready mademoiselle, please find me later. I would love to chat more.” She let go slowly, her fingertips lingering on the pulse on Alice’s wrist before she wandered off towards her seat.
“Alice, we’re over here.” Dread guided her with a hand to her back, pulling her seat out for her when they got to their designated table. Questions bubbled up her throat, her mouth opening to ask before she quickly closed it. It was the wrong time and place, there were too many ears. She needed to get her head back in the game, she could interrogate Dread and Danton later.
“Something smells off,” her earpiece rattled.
Alice tipped the champagne flute to her mouth, pretending to drink so she could reply. “What do you mean?”
“I smell something acidic, but can’t tell where it’s coming from,” Rose replied. “I’m in the kitchen.”
Alice thought about that for a second. Rose’s nose was closer to her panther than human, could smell scents everybody else didn’t even know existed.
“D?” Alice whispered quietly, making sure her head was down. “Go see if you notice anything unusual.” Vampires had sensitive noses too, albeit not as good as a shifter.
The reply came swiftly.
A waiter dressed in black slacks and a neat white shirt came up to the table, a blood red napkin draped over his right arm.
“Could I order anybody some drinks?”
“Order me a glass of the Chateau du Sang,” Dread replied before anyone else could get a say in.
“My companion will just have a glass of water.” He quickly added before Alice could order herself. Scowling, she clutched her champagne closer.
You’re working, remember. His eyes glared.
Yeah, well technically, so are you. Her own eyes replied before he turned into a conversation with the man beside him. Fuck sake. She savoured a small sip of her champagne, enjoying the bubbles burst on her taste buds.
There were only two people she could have a wordless conversation with, have a strong enough bond to be able to read their expression. Dread had brought her up, had been her parental guardian since the death of her parents.
“Are you sure you would not like some fresh blood, sir?” The waiter asked Dread.
“Anybody holding a red napkin are available,” he said as he tipped his throat, holes
marking the lightly stubbled flesh.
“I would like fresh,” a man opposite interrupted, his grey hair slicked back in a modern style, a complete contrast to the Victorian style suit he was wearing. His fangs were long and pearl white, a shade similar to his pale, yet withered skin.
The thing with vampires is that you couldn’t really tell their age at a glance, he could be ten years undead or one hundred, his aged skin unusual amongst most Vamps. The majority of humans applied to be changed before they became thirty, the wrinkles the vampira virus couldn’t remove were fixed before his turn. From the number of wrinkles, Alice guessed he had been turned before The Change, where vampires, as well as all Breeds, hid among the humans. From the state of his skin, his life before wasn’t a prosperous one.
His lady friend, on the other hand, was clearly new, her pupils dilating every time somebody came close, her tongue licking the inside of her lips. She would have been around twenty-five when she turned, as per the law stating all candidates must be in prime health and between the ages of eighteen and thirty-nine.
Before the laws, the death rate of the newly turned was around eighty per cent, the virus temperamental. Which was one of the reasons why The Council created the candidate process. The second reason being an agreement with the humans back when they were negotiating Breed citizenship that vampires – who are the only Breeds that were originally human – could only be turned under a strict process. Therefore giving the Norms a false sense of control that they didn’t have to worry they would be overrun with the living dead.
“So do you let your date order for you every time?” a male voice beside her asked.
“Excuse me?” Alice spun toward the dark-haired man.
“He isn’t my date,” she replied before thinking. Bollocks, yes he was.
“Well, that’s going to make flirting a hell of a lot easier.” The stranger’s mouth erupted into a full smile, highlighting a single dimple in his left cheek.
“The names Nate Blackwell.” He held out his hand, flaring his chi in greeting.
“As in Blackwell Casino?” She felt his chi brush against hers, fuzzy in its sensation.
Blackwell Casino was one of the newer skyscrapers built in the southern district, a beast of a building that stuck out like a sore thumb against the protected Victorian structures that surrounded the expensive area.
“That’s the one.”
“Alice.” She clasped his hand, allowing some of her own chi to reciprocate, just enough to seem polite, but not enough to encourage.
“Alice.” He seemed to taste her name on his tongue. “Pretty name. Haven’t seen you in these circles before.”
“I don’t normally get invited,” she replied with a genuine smile.
“Well, I hope you get invited to many more.”
“One, two. One, two.” A man started to tap the microphone on the stage, testing the sound.
“Looks like it’s about to start.”
Alice continued to sip her champagne, ignoring the water the waiter had placed beside her.
“Then I guess I will be chatting with you a little bit later,” Nate said with a wink.
“Welcome everybody to the tenth consecutive charity gala and the first for ‘Children of the Moon.’ If you could please put your hands together for the charity patron, Markus Luera.”
The speaker on the stage clapped, stepping down as another man took his place.
Markus Luera was dressed in a tailored dark blue suit with black bow tie, his white beard shocking compared to his spiked jet black hair spiked. Holding a cane against his tanned left arm he held his hand over his breast pocket, smiling to the crowd before turning towards the central table.
“Mistress Valentina, it is a pleasure you could join us.”
He gracefully bowed, dipping his head before standing straight.
“It is an honour that you would grace us with your presence for a charity so close to home.”
Mistress? Alice studied Markus Luera carefully, noticed the nervous gesture of his hand as he tugged at his cane. Mistress was Valentina’s title from other vampires, as a member of The Council she stood for all the Vamps, was essentially their leader, their voice. ‘Mistress’ was supposed to be a label of respect. Or fear. Which meant Markus Luera was a vampire, one with a tan.
Vampires don’t tan.
Valentina smiled at the attention, waving elegantly from her seated position.
“Monsieur Luera, I’m interested to hear from the guest speaker, I hear he has been exceedingly generous.”
“Then I will keep this short and sweet, Mistress.”
He turned to address the crowd.
“Friends, I have gathered you here today to highlight the great work ‘Children of the Moon’ have been doing for the local children affected by their horrible inflictions. The actions of my fellow board members have helped over one hundred younglings with their life-changing conditions, building moon rooms for the children to live out their final days safely. As it stands, we are closer than ever to a cure, every donation counts towards a future where children who are born with the vampira virus will be able to live to an age where they can survive the transition.”
The room was quiet, everybody listening intently as Markus passionately spoke about the condition that affected around five per cent of children. They still didn’t understand the disease, couldn’t comprehend how the virus could attack a child while still in the womb of a parent that wasn’t a vampire.
“As you have all paid the £10,000 entrance fee you are all greatly thanked by the children who are still going strong, and by the children who are yet to be born.”
Holy shit, this cost £10,000 each?
“But my next guest has gone far and beyond to help out the children, he and his family have donated a total of one million over the last year to help build a research facility here in London. Please welcome with open arms, our guest speaker, Mason Storm.”
Alice choked on the final bit of champagne, the bubbles bursting in her throat as she tried to control her breathing. Eyes around the table shot to her in annoyance, sniffing and tutting in displeasure at the disruption. Dread silently handed her a napkin, his attention not wavering from the stage. Coughing into the linen, Alice watched as Mason smiled to the audience, their applause loud and over the top.
Her heart skipped a beat once she noticed the other man who joined him on stage. Anger, embarrassment, and, weirdly, excitement all flowed across her brain too fast for her to really decipher. Her emotions were chaotic as she watched Riley stand beside his father, a beautiful redhead clinging to his arm.
You have got to be shitting me.