A Fresh Fiction 2010 Favorite Read.
Nothing if not resilient, Celia Graves is slowly adjusting
to being a half-human, half-vampire Abomination. But
her troubles are far from over. Her best friend’s
murder is still unsolved, the cops are convinced she should
be in jail, and her old lover, the magician Bruno DeLuca,
has resurfaced in her life, saying he has something
important to tell her.
The vampire attack that
transformed Celia kicked her latent Siren abilities into
high gear, and now she’s been summoned to the Sirens’ island
to justify her existence—and possibly fight for her life—in
front of the Siren Queen. Celia isn’t sure she’ll
survive to make the trip. The demon she defeated in
Blood Song hasn’t exactly gone quietly—he’s left
Celia suffering from a powerful curse.
The limo was long and sleek, an extended number in gleaming
white, polished to a shine
that was almost blinding under the bright lights outside the
restaurant. It seemed a little
excessive for just two people, but it was the first in line,
and none of the other models were any
less ostentatious. I’m not normally impressed by that sort
of thing, so it’s saying something that
they got to me. I ride in limos fairly often. I’m a
bodyguard. When I’m on “close” duty, I’m
with the protectee in the car. Most of the time, however,
I’m in one of the caravan vehicles,
either in front or behind the main car. Suits me fine. I’m a
working class type of person.
Tonight I was one of the VIPs. Weird, very weird. We’d been
having a wake for my best
friend in life or death, Vicki Cooper, who’d been wealthy
even by Hollywood standards. She’d
been murdered by magic while supposedly “safe” in her own
room in a guarded facility. The
most unique part of the whole affair was that the deceased
had attended the party. Vicki had been
a powerful clairvoyant in life, a level 9—and to my
knowledge, there aren’t any level 10s. In
death, she was proving herself to be an equally powerful,
sentient spirit . . . bound to earth by
unfinished business. The trouble was, nobody knew yet what
was going to cause her to ‘move
on’ to the next reality and, although she could communicate
with people, especially me, she
Another handful of glitter and confetti dropped on me, but
there was none of the
exuberance to it that there had been an hour before. Vicki
was tired. No matter how you cut it,
she’s a ghost now, and didn’t have unlimited power. I looked
up after dusting the glitter from my
face. “It’s okay, Vick. Go rest. The party’s over.” She’d
been a real trooper, staying in this realm
for a four hour event. She’d spun piñatas for breaking,
chilled margaritas all over the room, and
had touched each and every person at the event with a cool
‘hug’ of air. Tears had mingled with
laughter as we said our good-byes to one of the most amazing
people we’d ever had the privilege
Her breeze swirled around me like a miniature dust devil for
a moment before dissolving
and leaving a strange stillness to cover me like a shroud. A
woman whose name I couldn’t
remember stumbled against the side of the limo behind, her
movements sloppy from too many
drinks. We’d known ahead of time that everyone would be
drinking to ease the pain, so
arrangements had been made to keep people from having to drive.
There was a light brush of smooth fingers on my arm and I
turned my head to the tanned,
silver-haired man next to me. That touch sucked back into
the real world, which was a worse
place for the loss of my friend. I wrapped my arms around my
body, even though the California
night was warm, almost sultry. “We should get back. It’s late.”
I nodded and let Dr. Scott climb in first. He’d been Vicki’s
psychiatrist at Birchwoods,
the expensive, in-patient, supposedly magic-proof facility
that had still somehow failed to protect
her from death. He was soon to be my court-appointed guide
to normalcy—or so everyone
claimed. I wouldn’t have trusted him except that Vicki did.
She’d personally invited him to the
wake—after her death. It was hard to argue with that sort of
He immediately set to opening the skylight. I didn’t blame
him. It was a beautiful night.
The wake had, for the most part, gone well. Notwithstanding
a little interruption by the princess
of the sirens, who challenged me to a death duel, a good
time had been had by all, and more than
a few good memories shared.
I wasn’t exactly unsteady on my feet, but I wasn’t
completely sober either. The owner of
the restaurant-slash-cantina had been a friend of Vicki’s
too, and she fixed a mean margarita
when distraught. There was probably as much salt from tears
in each drink as there was around
the rim, and easily double the alcohol. That meant I was
feeling the effects. Pity it wouldn’t last
long. My metabolism had been altered significantly by a
vampire bite that, while it hadn’t
succeeded in making me undead, had done some truly
remarkable things to my body. But, for
the moment at least, I was just a teeny bit tipsy.
It made remembering both easier, and harder.
“Ten-four. Area secure. Let’s start them moving.” The
uniformed officer wasn’t talking
to me, but into a radio. Still, it made me turn my head,
even though the flashing lights were
giving my newly acquired vampire vision a headache. My
escort back to Birchwoods tonight
would be a pair of police vehicles. I should mention that I
am not insane . . . well, no more than
the next guy. Nor am I a criminal . . . exactly. But
sometimes you get caught in the middle of
something bigger than you, and you have to make a choice.
The choice I made risked everything,
but for a good cause. Innocent lives would have been
lost—hundreds, if not thousands of them.
Sadly, there’s always a consequence to a decision that big.
I’d deliberately used my burgeoning psychic talents to
manipulate a whole slew of people,
including quite a few police officers, into doing what
needed to be done. Psychic manipulation is
a big legal no-no. And while they haven’t been able to prove
it yet—especially since I failed
their telepathy tests spectacularly, I knew I’d done it, so
I wasn’t fighting too hard.
I’d been given a choice of committing myself to a private
facility or risk being declared a
“threat to the public” and getting sent to one of the state
run prison-slash-asylums until my case
came to trial. Normally that would be never. Speedy trials
do not exist for the furry—or for
most of the other preternatural types. (Yes, the ACLU is
working on it. But they’ve been
working on it for a couple of decades now without success.)
I’d heard the rumors, seen the
undercover news specials about the abuses in those places.
As such, I figured I’d rather die than
get stuck in one. And while I wasn’t exactly thrilled about
the notion of incarceration,
Birchwoods was certainly preferable to dying. Thankfully,
because I’d managed to wrangle a
stay in a private institution, with good doctors, and one
that might actually let me out eventually,
I was actually going to get a hearing in this lifetime. Of
course, the hearing might well put me in
there for the rest of my life, like Vicki, so I wasn’t
precisely looking forward to the adventure.
But I was not going to think about that tonight. Tonight was
for happier thoughts. Right
on cue Bruno came up beside me, snaking his arm around my
waist. I turned into his embrace,
smiling. Back in college Bruno DeLuca and I had been a
couple. We’d even gone so far as to
get engaged. It hadn’t worked out. Maybe we were too young.
And then, of course, there was
the friction between me and his family. Whatever the cause,
we’d broken up. I’d never
completely gotten over him.
“How you holding up?” He smiled and I melted. Mind you, my
reaction wasn’t just
because of his looks, although he’s certainly drool worthy.
Tall, dark and studly he comes from
solid Italian-American working stock in Jersey. His tousled
dark curls have just a touch of silver
now, and there are faint lines on the handsome face: laugh
lines mostly, but a few others. Life
has been good, you can tell. But it hasn’t been easy for
him, any more than it has me.
“Not too bad. How about you?” He shrugged. It had been both
a good and bad day. The
wake was bad, but he’d gotten a job offer out of it too.
That’s the other part of my attraction to
him. I respect the talent that makes him headhunting-worthy
enormously. Bruno is a mage, and a
damned good one. He has a lot of power. More than that, he
keeps people safe through skill.
When you’re dealing with heavy duty black magical forces it
is all about the control. He’s smart,
he’s savvy, and when push comes to shove he can be a cold,
hard bastard. If it hadn’t been for
the fact that his talent makes upright, uptight corporate
America safe and profitable, and the fact
he’s so insanely honest, he might have given his cousin,
Little Joey, a run for it in taking charge
of the Family businesses. I only suspect the capital ‘F’ on
the word, by the way. I have no actual
proof, and have never had the nerve to ask.
As it is he works as one of the top mages at one of the big
four international companies. I
suspect he makes obscene amounts of money doing it. I’ve
never asked. It’d be rude. I honestly
don’t care about that other than to be happy for him. I make
a good living of my own guarding
the wealthy and paranoid.
He kissed my cheek and warmth tingled through my body. I
would have liked to have
done more, never mind the guards watching his every
movement. But there’ll be time. His voice
whispered into my consciousness as his lips nuzzled my ear.
“Love you. We’ll talk soon.” Wow.
I’m still having a hard time believing my good luck. He
loves me. We’re going to have another
chance as a couple. Really, I mean . . . wow. There have
been other men in my life, plenty of
them. But Bruno is . . . well . . . Bruno. He has joi de
vivre, big brass cojones, and style. He
understands me better than anyone—even gets my sense of
humor. Sarcasm, dry wit, or absolute
slapstick, he can make me laugh, even when things are at
their absolute bleakest. Once I can
laugh at something, we face it. Together. I never have to
worry about my back when Bruno’s
Looking up into Bruno’s sparkling brown eyes I couldn’t
resist stealing another kiss.
Blame the tequila.
I’d meant for it to be a quick peck. Apparently he had other
When the world realigned on its axis, and I got my breath
back, Dr. Scott was leaning out
the door giving a pointed “cough.”
Bruno just laughed, giving me a firm pat on the backside
that sent me a half-step toward
the curb. “Go on. I’ve got to get back to Jersey, finish
work out the details and break the news
to the family.”
“Ah. Good luck with that.” He made a face that matched mine.
Suddenly a stay at
Birchwoods didn’t sound so bad. Mama DeLuca hates me. She
was so not going to be happy
about her baby and I getting back together. As to him moving
to the west coast—let me be in a
nice locked facility when she found that one out. Please.
He laughed, probably reading my mind. The really good mages
can do that. It’s how he
got the job offer across a crowded and noisy bar. “It’ll be
fine.” He assured me. “I’ll handle it.” I
shook my head at his antics, blew him a kiss goodbye, and
climbed in the car.
The first thing I did was slide across the luxurious gray
leather. I deliberately positioned
myself to make the most of the skylight then allowed myself
to sink into a seat that was made for
comfort. Fresh air would be good for me, and I love looking
up at the stars. My own car is a
convertible, and I ride with the top down as often as I can.
Only at night now, sadly, thanks to
the new vampire blood. Imagine, living in California and I’m
now allergic to the sun! It pisses
me off, but there’s not much I can do about it. So I’m doing
my best to think of other things. Of
course that’ll come to a screeching halt once I start
therapy. Doctors tend to insist on you
dredging up every possible negative memory and
feeling—especially things you’d buried for
Oh joy. Just thinking about it took the shiny off of my mood.
“I hope you’re not in a hurry.” Dr. Scott said. It’s a nice
night, so I told the driver to take
I snorted and crossed my arms over my chest like a suddenly
petulant child. The reality
was beginning to sink home and with it, the fear about my
future. “Why would I be in a hurry?
I’m only leaving behind my job, my house, all of my clothes,
plus my best friend, my boyfriend
and, gee . . . solid food.” I tried to keep the bitterness
out of my voice, without success.
“Celia, everything’s going to be fine. You’ll see.”
I gave another snort and raised my brows at him. My first
meeting with the good doctor
resulted in my stalking his secretary like a deer and
chasing him out of the room in panic. I
hadn’t been safe to talk until after he locked me inside his
office with a pitcher of cow blood,
which I happily sucked down like a strawberry milk shake.
Since I knew the telepathic doctor
was likely reading my mind, I commented on the memory.
“Gosh, that was a fun episode. Can’t
wait for the reruns. How about you?”
He had the decency to look chagrined.
I heard the driver’s door slam shut and it moved my
attention from him, giving him the
opportunity to fiddle with the buttons on the side panel.
Probably looking for another stiff drink
to bolster him for the start of this adventure. My brow
furrowed suddenly, because I felt . . .
something. It was an odd, pins-and-needles tingling
sensation that I was beginning to associate
with magical barriers. I’d never been able to get even a
hint of the magical before the vampire
bite. Now I’m aware of nearly each and every one of them.
The more power they use, the more
painful. This one hurt.
I sat bolt upright in my seat, actually flinching when I
heard the automatic locks click
with what felt like an ominous finality.
“What’s wrong?” As a trained observer of human behavior Dr.
Scott didn’t like the vibe
I was giving off. He was suddenly very alert and looked
“Maybe nothing.” I answered. My voice stayed steady, but
sounded uneasy. It didn’t
feel like nothing. I could feel the pressure building,
making me want to wiggle my jaw like you
do in an airplane to get your ears to pop. There are
protective spells that can be used to keep
objects, including vehicles, from damage. But they’re
hideously expensive, difficult to do, and
create enough friction when a car is in motion to make any
model a gas hog. A limo like this one
was built like a tank. It shouldn’t need that kind of a
spell, and I hadn’t sensed enough magical
ability in any of the uniforms to pull it off. While it
wouldn’t take someone of Bruno’s level, it
would take at least a level 4, and I should have felt one.
But if it wasn’t a protection spell, then what was it?
Maybe it was the liquor making me slow, but I couldn’t think
of a damned thing. Which
made me suspicious. Well, more suspicious. I’ve been a
bodyguard so long that I’m always a
little bit paranoid. “Can you sense the driver?”
The car moved smoothly away from the curb, fitting nicely in
between the pair of police
cruisers. I could see it through the window . . . barely.
Mostly I just saw my reflection on the
inside of the glass. The woman I saw was attractive, but
cold, hard. It was my “business face.” I
use it a lot. So often, that sometimes even I forget the
softer me exists.
“That would be illegal.” Dr. Scott didn’t bother to hide the
disapproval in his voice. It
was combined with the stern look of an instructor.
I shook my head. “No doctor. Reading his mind is illegal.
Just sensing to see if he’s
‘there’ isn’t.” It was a fine distinction, but I was
learning a lot about those as we prepared for my
upcoming trial. I had one of the best defense attorneys in
the business. If he was successful I
would be a free, if considerably less wealthy, woman. I
could live with that. If I stayed out of
jail I could always earn more money.
I pretended not to notice him staring at me, concentrating
instead on the scene outside the
glass. We’d turned left. It wouldn’t have been a big deal
except for one little detail. The nearest
exit to Ocean View was three blocks down and on the right.
Dr. Scott’s eyes locked with mine in the glass. If he was
checking my thoughts, I
couldn’t tell. At the moment I wouldn’t even mind. Best for
him to find out for himself that I
wasn’t joking. I was beginning to suspect we were in very
real trouble. I watched in the glass as
he pursed his lips thoughtfully. Seeming to reach a
decision, his face went distant and blank for
a few seconds.
“That’s odd. I can’t sense him at all.” He sounded puzzled,
and not altogether happy.
I turned to face him, “Null?” I made it a question. Psychic
nulls were rare, but not
unheard of. I’d very briefly been assigned to a shrink that
was a null. She was completely
immune to magic, and to psychic manipulation. Which would’ve
made her the perfect doctor for
someone like me, if she hadn’t also been one of the bad
guys. As it was, her drugging me and
setting me up for murder had started the chain of events
leading up to my legal woes—and
undoubtedly set my therapy back years.
“No. It feels more as if I’m being blocked.”
I wouldn’t have thought I could tense any further, but I did
as the adrenaline pumped
through my system. We’d just taken another left turn. Which
meant we weren’t headed toward
the main highway exits heading toward Birchwoods either. We
were going the exact opposite
direction—and while I couldn’t be sure, yet, it appeared we
were en route to the desert, where
there was miles and miles of nothing. . . right up until you
got to the state run facility for ‘rogue’
monsters and psychics.
“Doctor, are you lying to me?” There was a growling, hissing
tone to my voice, and my
skin had started to glow, giving off a pale, gray-green
light that filled the passenger compartment
like water in a pool. It was decidedly spooky. In just a few
days I’ve grown to hate that, but right
now it might prove useful in scaring the doctor. If he was
scared maybe, just maybe, he’d be
honest with me. Of course, getting angry was liable to push
the limits of my control over the
monster in me. But I needed the truth, and I didn’t have a
lot of options as to how I was going to
He shrugged, but was more interested in concentrating on
whatever was pushing him
away. “Why would I lie?”
I waved my hand in front of his face to grab his attention
and then pointed. “Look out the
He tried, even going so far as to press his nose to the
glass. “I can barely see through the
tinting. What am I looking for?”
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