The vampire rushed toward her with terrifying speed.
As he leaped at her, fangs bared, Quinn Lennox grabbed his arm and turned, using his own momentum to send him flying against the back wall. As plaster fell to the ground around him, Quinn felt a surge of satisfaction, but she had no time to revel in her newfound power. Another vampire was already flying at her. Though her strength was a match for theirs, thanks to the magic now roaring through her veins, her speed was not. But with the full awakening of her Blackstone magic, she’d acquired an ability to track and sense their movements almost before they made them. She might not be able to move as fast as they could, but she could see them coming.
Quinn grabbed the second vampire and threw him against the opposite wall, then lifted her hand as the third started toward her, slamming him into his companion with a blast of her magic alone.
With a quick grin, she bent her knees and raised her hands, preparing for another attack. “Bring it on, boys,” she called to the three vampires now picking themselves up off the floor. As one, they began to circle her again.
“Did she just call us boys?” Micah asked with a chuckle.
“I believe she did.” A smile lifted the corners of Kassius’s mouth.
No smile breached Arturo’s handsome face as he stalked her, leading this training session. His expression remained intent and focused, even as approval and worry did battle in his eyes. She was doing well against them and they both knew it. But she didn’t have to be able to read his mind to know that her growing confidence in fighting vampires worried him.
As usual, Arturo Mazza was dressed all in black. His close-cropped dark brown hair framed a strong-boned face with high, pronounced cheekbones and even, attractive features. Despite having been a vampire for centuries, his skin still possessed a hint of Mediterranean gold, a gift from his Italian ancestors. With his broad shoulders and long, lean body he was a fine-looking male.
“Now,” he said quietly.
The three vampires flew at her at once and while she managed to throw off Micah and Kassius, Arturo got through. Three against one turned out to be her undoing and the next thing she knew, she was on her back on the padded floor, Arturo’s hard body pinning hers to the ground.
His hips pressed against hers, a familiar pleasure.
Heat ignited between them, but he ignored it, his eyes hard, his voice frustrated. “You lose.”
Quinn pressed warm palms against his cool cheeks. “My death touch. I win.”
He opened his mouth to argue, then closed it with a snap. Her death touch was just one of a number of powers she possessed, most of which she’d only recently found access to. While she’d never actually use this one on him, she had the skill. Technically, she could drain his strength, and life, with a touch of her hands.
Dark eyes watched her as if probing deep for the truth. “Could you use it?” he asked quietly. “On anyone?”
That was a question she didn’t have the answer to. But now was not the time to admit it. “I’ll do whatever I must to win,” she said instead.
“You should not have let me drive you to the ground like this.” His voice remained sharp, but his eyes were beginning to heat around the edges as his body settled comfortably into the welcoming curves of her own. “You might be able to kill me, but on your back, you’re vulnerable to attack from others.”
He’d been riding her hard, training her relentlessly all day. It was time he lightened up. Her hands still on his cheeks, she began to trace his lips with her thumbs.
Wry amusement lit those dark eyes. “You’re not taking this seriously, amore mio.”
“I’m taking this very seriously.” But a smile tugged at her mouth as she ran her fingers into his hair and pushed her hips up against his. “I have you exactly where I want you.”
Dark eyes turned obsidian. He resisted her for all of three seconds before he surrendered, taking her lips in a hot, claiming kiss. Heat exploded between them, tongues stroking, twining, mouths devouring.
“I believe the training is over,” Kassius said dryly.
Arturo pulled back with a muttered, “Hell no,” then jumped to his feet, pulling her up with him.
Quinn groaned. “No more. I need a break, Turo.” She was hot, tired, and badly in need of food. “I haven’t eaten in hours.”
Arturo’s expression turned suddenly concerned. “I’m working you too hard.”
A quick smile broke through. “No, but we’ve been at this non-stop for nearly two hours. I’m human, remember? We need the occasional break every now and then.”
He watched her, his hard-assed training coach mien falling away, finally, as he smiled at her with pride, and pulled her against him. “You are a very quick learner, tesoro. Your skills grow by the minute.”
“Thanks.” She found herself grinning, although heaven knew, she had little enough to be happy about with her brother’s death racing at her like a red-eyed Ripper and this world—Vamp City—literally falling down around their ears. But newfound power was a head rush and she was still riding the high of besting three vampires, even if this particular trio would never actually hurt her.
“Great job, Quinn,” Micah said with a smile as he and Kassius joined them. “If you get much stronger, there won’t be a vampire in Vamp City you won’t be able to take.”
“An exaggeration,” Arturo murmured.
“I’m not so sure.” Micah winked at her.
When she’d first met Micah, she’d thought he was human, a new neighbor in her apartment building in D.C. He’d looked a bit disreputable with his untrimmed hair, unshaven jaw, and the three-inch scar running down one cheek, but the moment she’d looked into those laughing gray eyes, she’d known she’d found a friend.
“She cannot take Cristoff,” Arturo said quietly, releasing her, his vampire master’s name sending a chill down Quinn’s spine. A chill that was mirrored in Arturo’s eyes.
The sadistic Cristoff’s determination to find her and make her pay for having escaped him…twice…bordered on obsession. He would torture her, making her wish for death long before he actually killed her.
Cristoff believed that Arturo, Kassius, and Micah remained his ever-loyal lieutenants and were busy searching for the cunning sorceress, when it was actually Arturo and Kassius who’d helped her escape Cristoff the second time. If their master ever discovered the truth, all of their lives would be forfeit.
The mention of Cristoff effectively doused Quinn’s feelings of jubilation. Because, while everything inside of her screamed for her to stay as far from Cristoff as possible, the entire reason for her training was to prepare her to breach the monster’s castle and steal his prized possession, the enchanted sword Escalla.
Her pulse accelerated, her body chilling, at the thought of what would happen if that sadistic vampire caught her. After her first escape, he’s promised to cut off her feet if she ever tried it again. She had no doubt that losing her feet would only be the beginning.
But as terrified as she was of going, not going terrified her far more. Because unless she destroyed Escalla, her beloved brother Zack would die.
Kassius clasped her shoulder. “You did well, sorceress.”
Quinn met his warm, serious gaze and smiled. The male, another of Arturo’s best and oldest friends, was built like a tree—a huge, powerful oak. Born a werewolf, he’d been turned into a vampire, or more accurately, a werevamp since he still had access to his wolf form when he needed it. She’d come to know him as a quiet man with a big heart, especially when it came to humans.
“Thanks, Kass.” Quinn turned back to Arturo. “I need to grab a sandwich, but I can be ready to leave in an hour. It’s time we got that sword.”
“You’ll need glamour,” Micah said. “I should probably glamour all of us for the trip to Gonzaga, just to be on the safe side. Meet me in the sitting room when you’ve eaten, Quinn.”
“No,” Arturo said, the word dropping like a five-pound brick. “We’ll go tomorrow.”
Quinn blinked. “The plan was to go today, Turo. We agreed to work on my skills, then leave. Today.” She looked for support from the other two, but both Kassius and Micah took a step back as if wanting to distance themselves from the battle about to erupt. Her jaw tightened as her hard gaze swung back to Arturo. “I’m ready.”
“You need another day.”
Kassius and Micah made a full and hasty retreat, heading for the door, damn them both.
Quinn swung back to Arturo. “I’m never going to be ready in your eyes.”
He lifted his hands, but his expression remained obstinate. “One more day.”
“Zack may not have one more day,” she snapped.
It was the wrong thing to say. Arturo’s expression hardened, telling her without words that he still believed she cared more about her brother than anyone else, including herself. Especially herself. As much as she hated to admit it, that might have been true once, but it wasn’t anymore. Not entirely. But it didn’t alter the fact that the magic sickness playing havoc with Zack might kill him at any moment.
“I’m ready, Turo. You know that.” If she came under attack, she’d be fine. As long as Cristoff wasn’t the one attacking her. “Between Micah glamouring me to look like someone else, and my own magic, no one will even know I’m there.”
He watched her, his eyes alive with a myriad of emotions. “What about the sword?” he asked quietly. “You’ve yet to master the control you will need to lift the sword from its case without drawing the attention of Cristoff’s guards.”
And that was the real kicker.
Quinn looked away, her mouth twisting with frustration because she really was having trouble with that part. Her being able to lift Escalla from its deadly, booby-trapped case with magic alone was crucial to their success. And while she couldn’t practice with the real thing, she’d been working to develop the skill to lift heavy objects with precise control in hopes that she’d be able to pull the sword from a case that didn’t want to let it go. Preferably without making a racket that would draw down half the castle’s guards.
Unfortunately, this particular skill continued to elude her.
“I can do it,” she hedged. She hadn’t said she had done it. Sooner or later she’d manage it. The question was would it be today?
Dammit. “We don’t have time. We both need something to eat before we meet Micah.”
“Show me, cara.” Arturo slid one hand gently into her hair as he stepped close, facing her. “You would rush into Gonzaga Castle unprepared. And I fear that in doing so, you will die.” Traces of anguish wove through the rich sable of his eyes as his other hand rose to her hair, as his thumbs traced her temples with gentle strokes. “But I have grave doubts that I will be able to protect you adequately, even though I will do everything in my power to do so, amore mio.” The breath that tore out of him sounded pained.
And she believed him. Mostly. Her gut told her he spoke the truth. Then again, she’d always believed in him, even when his soul had been compromised. And she’d paid for that. Badly.
He wasn’t that man anymore. She knew that. His soul had been fully restored. She was positive. Mostly.
“Cristoff has always been the strongest among us,” he continued. “And while that strength, until recently, was tempered by compassion and mercy, it is no more.” His fingers caressed her skull. “Stay here, amore mio.” His words were a plea. “Let us retrieve the sword.”
Quinn pulled away with a frustrated sigh. She appreciated his concern for her, she really did. But they’d had this discussion too many times.
“You don’t have any way to get the sword out of its case. My magic is our only option.”
“We will think of something else.”
“No. You won’t. I can do this!” She turned away from him, because she wasn’t sure that was true. And if she failed? God help them all, because Zack wasn’t the only one in danger. She would lose many, many she now considered good friends. When Vamp City crumbled, hundreds of vampires, werewolves, fae, and immortal humans would die.
And it could happen at any moment.
Vamp City, or Washington, V.C., as the vampires called it, was a magical otherworld created in 1870 by a powerful wizard, Phineas Blackstone. Blackstone duplicated a large portion of Washington, D.C. at that time—though only buildings and land, nothing living—to create a vampire utopia, a place where the sun never shone, where humans, brought in as servants and slaves, were unable to escape, where vampires could live and play and hunt in the open, free of human reprisal.
The vampires had been able to travel freely between the worlds until two years ago when the magic began to fail, trapping all within V.C.’s boundary at that moment. Hidden deep within the illusion of Blackstone’s utopia was the true purpose of Vamp City—a vampire death trap.
As possibly the last sorcerer left in the world, Quinn was the only one who could possibly renew the magic and save the city. But to do that, she had to break the Levenach curse that was still partially binding her magic. And to do that, she had to destroy the enchanted sword, Escalla.
A shiver of dread rippled through her at the thought of intentionally walking into Cristoff Gonzaga’s castle. Not only was he the most powerful vampire in Vamp City with the ability to pulverize the brain of any victim with a mere touch of his hand, be he human, werewolf, or vampire, but he was a sadist who literally fed on the pain of others.
“Quinn,” Arturo said quietly behind her. Neither he nor Micah had been in V.C. the night the magic failed and were, as far as Quinn knew, the only two vampires remaining who were still able to come and go as they wished. There were other vampires in the D.C. area, others who were not trapped, but the others stayed far away from the crumbling city that could no longer fully protect its inhabitants from the deadly sunlight. Only Arturo and Micah remained, determined to save their friends. And determined to help her save her brother.
Strong hands cupped her shoulders from behind, then gently turned her to face him.
“I cannot lose you, amore mio,” he said, the depth of emotion in his dark eyes melting her. As she slid her arms around his waist, he covered her mouth in a drugging kiss and she pressed closer, needing his touch, his strength, the momentary forgetfulness she found in his arms. She loved the feel of his cool lips, loved the way they turned warm when he kissed her—the way his entire body turned warm. She reveled in the strength of his arms sliding around her, and sighed with pleasure as her senses once more drowned in the scent of almonds and moonlight.
He was coming to mean far too much to her, which had her pulling away in a schizophrenic chaos of joy and frustration, of warmth and uncertainty. Because while she believed Arturo was as concerned with her safety as he claimed to be, that hadn’t always been true. And, try as she might, she couldn’t forget that.
The first time she met him, she and Zack had only just stumbled into Vamp City while searching for Zack’s missing best friend, Lily. Arturo had lied to her and betrayed her even as he’d saved her over and over. Ultimately, she’d learned that his soul had been compromised, his morals damaged by the poisonous magic of Vamp City, but the goodness inside of him, even then, had not been entirely suppressed.
It was the purity of her own magic, he said, that had saved him. And, for the most part, she did believe that he’d fully reclaimed his soul.
But the memories of those old betrayals whispered warnings, still, especially when she caught him withholding information from her, as she had yesterday. Important information about Zack. That he would do that to her even now, after all they’d been through together, continued to prey on her mind.
Quinn pulled away from him, refusing to let him soften her resolve. There were too many lives at stake.
“I’m not waiting another day, Turo.”
He met her gaze, an obstinate gleam flaring in his eyes. “First show me that you have acquired the finesse you will need to free the sword.”
Oh, stubborn, stubborn vampire. She intended to win this fight. But perhaps there didn’t have to be a fight. Maybe she really could prove to both of them that she had that finesse in her. Knowing she did would add to her confidence immeasurably.
“All right.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “What do you want me to lift?”
He looked at her with surprise, then pressed his lips together, considering. “The barbell in the gym.”
Quinn gave a short nod, dropped her arms and started for the door. “No problem.”
“With two hundred pounds.”
Her jaw dropped and she whirled on him. “That’s ridiculous! Escalla can’t weigh more than twenty.”
“But the enchanted case in which it lies will not so easily let it go,” he replied reasonably with a lift of his brow. “Lift the barbell a few inches using magic alone, then set it carefully down again, and I will be satisfied.”
Yeah, him and her both. She’d been trying to find that kind of control for the past couple of days, and so far, had failed miserably. Another failure like before would only solidify his argument that she needed another day’s practice. But she’d told him she’d try and she might as well.
Turning on her heel, she left the sparring room and strode down the hall toward the weight room where Zack spent most of his time these days. Both rooms were part of the extensive underground complex beneath Neo’s safe house deep in the Vamp City otherworld. Just a week ago, this place had been swarming with humans who’d escaped their vampire masters—humans who Neo and his team had ferried back to the real world through a well-organized underground railroad. But as Vamp City raced toward its end, everything was changing. Neo and his team no longer cared if they were caught. They’d been taking risks they’d never have taken before in order to free the humans quickly.
No one was certain what would happen to the humans when the magic crumbled.
As Quinn entered the weight room, she found Zack and Jason—the human ex-marine who’d been training her brother—in the midst of a pull-up competition. Both men were sweating, Jason a little flushed with exertion, Zack a bright crimson thanks to the illness that had spiked his fever well over 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
He should be dead. According to Dr. Morris, he would be soon unless they managed to free him from the magic’s deadly grip.
The sickness raging through her brother’s body might be killing him, but it was not making him weak. Just the opposite. Against all that was logical, he felt perfectly fine and had been growing stronger by the hour. Quinn stared at her little brother, at the layers upon layers of muscle in his arms and chest, and shook her head. Just a couple of weeks ago, he’d been a tall, skinny computer geek who’d never lifted anything much heavier than his laptop. The two of them could have almost passed for twins, despite being only half siblings, with their height, wide mouths and green eyes inherited from their dad. Only their hair was strikingly different—his a mass of red curls, her own straight and blonde. Now, while she remained slender, he looked as buff and built as Jason.
On the surface, Zack appeared to have become addicted to bodybuilding, but Quinn knew the real reason he worked out constantly. He was determined to become as strong as possible, as quickly as possible. Just as she had a one-track mind when it came to keeping Zack safe, his own thoughts were focused on finding, and saving, Lily.
Arturo walked over to the weight bench, adjusted the weights at the ends of the bar to suit him, then stepped back.
“Now, cara,” Arturo said. “Six inches.”
Quinn met his gaze, then turned to her brother and Jason. “I hate to interrupt the pull-up battle, but I need you two to leave for a few minutes in case things start flying.” She was fairly certain she could lift the weights. The trouble was doing it with any measure of control.
Jason responded immediately, dropping to the ground, but Zack executed three more seemingly effortless pull-ups before doing the same. He turned to Jason with a grunt. “Beat you.”
Jason laughed. “No way in hell. You ignored direct orders.”
Zack smirked. “You were hurting, man. Admit it. The moment she asked us to stop, you dropped.”
Jason punched him good-naturedly in the shoulder and turned toward the door, but Arturo blocked their path.
Quinn looked at him sharply, then rounded on him as understanding crashed. “You’d endanger them intentionally.”
“It will give you the proper incentive, tesoro.”
She just stared at him.
But he didn’t budge, just continued to meet her gaze with that unflinching stubbornness. And while she longed to tell him no way in hell, she knew he was probably right. With a suitable incentive, she just might find the necessary control. Then again, she knew Arturo wouldn’t actually let Jason or Zack get hurt.
What the hell. It was worth a try. With a huff, she turned toward the weights and shook out her hands.
“Find the control, Quinn.” Arturo’s words were part demand, part plea. “Find it quickly.”
“I’m trying. God knows, I’m trying.”
She could almost feel the weights smirking at her, and had to quell the sudden, fierce desire to slam them against the wall. That she could do. Force was easy. It was the subtle lifting that remained steadfastly out of her reach.
“Tesoro,” Arturo pressed.
“I know, I know.” With a huff of frustration, she concentrated on the barbell, willing it to rise. Almost immediately, the weights began to rattle and shake, but the bar remained glued to the bench.
Come on, she urged silently, pushing a little more energy into it. The rattling increased, the weights clanking together, but still the thing refused to rise. Dammit. She thrust still more energy at it and this time felt a welling of anticipation inside her as if she could feel the barbell on the brink of movement. They were almost… There!
The barbell shot straight up into the air, crashing against the ceiling.
Quinn gasped. “Zack, move!”
Jason ran for the doorway, but Zack started moving toward the barbell as if planning to catch two hundred pounds of steel!
“Turo!” she cried, but though the infuriating vampire moved close to Zack, he took no steps to interfere. Was he expecting her to use her magic to push the bar out of the way? There wasn’t time!
Even as she lifted her hands, Zack caught the barbell with both of his, one leg lunging forward, his entire body absorbing the weight with ease.
Quinn’s jaw dropped.
“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,” Jason breathed behind her.
Holding the barbells as if they weighed nothing, Zack turned to her, green eyes glittering with challenge and temper. “When the fuck were you going to tell me that I’m a sorcerer, too?”
End of Excerpt