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Winter Halo (Outcast #2) by Keri Arthur (1)

Chapter 1

There were ghosts in this place.

Most kept their distance, simply watching as I made my way through the broken remnants of their tombstones. One or two of the braver ones brushed my arms with ethereal fingers—a caress that reached past the layers of jacket and shirt to chill my skin. But these ghosts meant me no harm. It was simple curiosity, or maybe even an attempt to feel again the heat and life that had once been theirs. And while I knew from experience that ghosts could be dangerous, I was not here to disturb or challenge the dead.

I simply was here to follow—and maybe even kill—the living.

Because the person I was tracking had come from the ruined city of Carleen that lay behind us. It was the very last city destroyed in a war that might have lasted only five years but had altered the very fabric of our world forever. One hundred and three years had passed since the war’s end, but Carleen had never been rebuilt. No one lived there. No one dared.

Given that the figure had come from that city, it could only mean one of two things: Either he or she was a human or shifter up to no good, or it was one of the two people responsible for kidnapping fourteen children from Central City—the only major city in this region. No one else had any reason to be out here, in the middle of nowhere, at night. Especially when the night was friend to no one but the vampires.

Of course, vampires weren’t the only evil to roam the night or the shadows these days. The bombs the shifters had unleashed to end the war against humans had resulted in the rifts—bands of energy and magic that roamed the landscape and mauled the essence of anything and anyone unlucky enough to be caught in their path. But that was not the worst of it, because many rifts were also doorways into this world from another time or dimension. Maybe even from hell itself. And the creatures that came through them—which were collectively called the Others but had been nicknamed demons, wraiths, or death spirits, depending on their form—had all found a new and easy hunting ground.

These rifts were the reason Carleen had never been rebuilt. There were a dozen of them drifting through the city’s ruins, and there was no way of predicting their movements. Neither wind nor gravitational pull had any influence on them, and they could just as easily move against a gale-force wind as they could leap upward to consume whatever might be taking flight that day—be it birds, aircraft, or even clouds. Once upon a time I’d believed that being caught in a rift meant death, but I now knew otherwise.

Because the people responsible for kidnapping those children were living proof that rifts were survivable—although by calling them “people” I was granting them a humanity they did not deserve. Anyone who could experiment on young children for any reason was nothing short of a monster. That anyone was doing so in an effort to discover a means by which vampires could become immune to light just made them more abominable.

But it wasn’t as if they could actually claim humanity in the first place. I might be a déchet—a lab-designed humanoid created by humans, before the war had begun, as a means to combat the superior strength and speed of the shifters—but every bit of my DNA was of this world.

The same could not be said of those responsible for the missing children.

I’d managed to rescue five of the children but I had no idea how they were or if they’d recovered from the horrific injuries inflicted on them. Those who could tell me were no longer my allies; they’d tried to kill me. Twice. They were not getting a third chance.

I continued to slip quietly through the night, following the teasing drift of footsteps. Whoever—whatever—was up ahead certainly wasn’t adept at walking quietly. Which suggested it wasn’t a vampire, or even a shifter. The former rarely traveled alone, despite the fact that they had very little to fear at night, and the latter were night-blind. Or so Nuri—who was one of my former allies, and a powerful human witch—had said.

I tended to believe her—at least on that point. Even before the war, both shifters and humans had lived in either cities or campsites that were lit by powerful light towers twenty-four/seven. Vampires had always been a problem—the war had just kept them well fed and increased their numbers. It made sense that after generations of living in never-ending daylight, the need for night sight would be filtered out of the DNA of all but a few throwbacks.

No, it was Nuri’s promise that no harm would befall the ghosts living in the old military bunker—one of the three in which they’d all been created, trained, and killed more than one hundred years ago—if I helped her group find the remaining children that I wasn’t so sure about. While she might not hold any prejudices against déchet, the others were all shifters and, from what they’d said, had all lost kin to déchet soldiers during the war.

While I wasn’t by design a soldier, I could fight, and I’d certainly been responsible for more than a few shifter deaths. Only my kills hadn’t happened in open fields or battered forests, but rather in the bedroom. I was a lure—a déchet specifically created to infiltrate shifter camps and seduce those in charge. Once I was firmly established in their beds, it had been my duty to gain and pass on all information relating to the war and their plans. And then, when my task was completed, I killed.

I’d been a very successful lure.

And I still was, I thought bleakly. Images of Sal—and the brutal way I’d killed him—rose, but I pushed them away. Sal might have been the only friend and confidant I’d really had during the war, but he’d also been part of the group responsible for kidnapping the children. And when I’d realized that, I’d had little choice but to take action. There were many things in this world I could ignore—many things I had no desire to be a part of—but I could not idly stand by and watch children suffer. Not again. Not if I could help it.

It was thanks to Sal—to the information I’d forced out of him before he died—that those five kids were now free. Six, if you included Penny, the child I’d rescued from the vampires who’d been tracking her in the park beyond the military bunker in which I still lived.

But that meant they still held eight. And while I had no intention of helping Nuri and her crew, I also had no intention of abandoning those children to their fates.

Which was why I’d been in Carleen tonight.

Sal and his two partners had created what the ghosts there called “false rifts”: balls of dirty energy that resembled regular rifts but were—as far as I could tell—nothing more than a means of quick transport from one location to another. I’d gone there tonight to investigate one of them. Cat and Bear—the two little ghosts who normally accompanied me on such journeys—were back home in our bunker. We’d learned the hard way that ghosts could not enter the rifts, and I wasn’t about to place them in any sort of danger if I could avoid it. They might be déchet, or they might be ghosts, but they were also only children.

The graveyard gave way to a long slope that was filled with rock debris and the broken, decaying remnants of trees. Halfway down the hill lay a gigantic crater, its rim strewn with rocks, building rubble, and twisted, sick-looking plants. Weirdly, even though I was standing above it, I couldn’t see into the crater itself. I frowned, my gaze narrowing. It might be the middle of the night, but the vampire DNA in my body had gifted me with—among other things—a vampire’s ability to see as clearly in darkness as I could during the day. But the shadows that clustered just below the crater’s rim were thick and impenetrable and emitted an energy that was dark and dirty.

Rift, an inner voice whispered, even as my skin crawled at the thought of getting any closer.

But the figure I was tracking had disappeared, and there was no place he or she could have gone other than the crater. If I wanted to uncover whether that person was one of my targets, then I had to keep following.

I started down the hill. Small stones and fragmented metal scooted out from underfoot with every step, the latter chiming softly as the pieces hit the larger rocks in my path. The graveyard ghosts danced lightly to the tune, seemingly unconcerned about either leaving the tombs or approaching the rift. Which in itself suggested that whatever that darkness was, it wasn’t dangerous. Either that or it was one of the few stationary rifts and, as such, posed no immediate threat to either them or me.

I wished I could talk to them. Maybe they could have told me whether my target came here regularly, or even who he or she might be. But these ghosts, like those in Carleen, were human, and that meant I couldn’t converse with them, as I could with shifter or déchet ghosts. Not without help, anyway. The scientists who’d designed us had made damn sure those destined to become lures could not use their seeker skills to read either their thoughts or their emotions. They might have created us to be their frontline soldiers against the shifters, but they’d also feared us. Mind reading wasn’t the only restriction placed on us when it came to humans—killing them was also out-of-bounds. Not that I’d ever tested that particular restriction—it had never occurred to me to do so during the war, and there’d been no need in the 103 years after it.

Energy began to burn across my skin as I drew closer to the crater. The ghosts finally hesitated, then retreated. Part of me wished I could do the same.

I stopped at the crater’s rim and stared down into it. The darkness was thick, almost gelatinous, and lapped at the tips of my boots in gentle waves. It was unlike anything I’d ever come across before. Even the shadows that had covered the other false rifts had not felt this foul, this . . . alien.

This wasn’t magic. Or, if it was, it wasn’t the sort of magic that had originated from this world. It just didn’t have the right feel. So did that mean it had come from the Others? From wherever they’d come from?

Were they even capable of magic?

I really had no idea. I doubted there was anyone alive who did know, simply because anyone who’d ever come across one of them didn’t live to tell the tale.

Except, I thought with a chill, Sal and his partners. They’d not only survived, but—thanks to the rift that had hit them just as a wraith was emerging—Sal’s partners now had its DNA running through their bodies.

I stared down at my boots, at the oily, glistening substance that stained the tips of them. Revulsion stirred, and the urge to retreat hit so strongly I actually took a step back. But that wouldn’t give me the answers I needed. Wouldn’t help find the missing children.

And it was that desire, more than anything, that got me moving in the right direction. One step; two. No stones slid from under my feet this time. Or, if they did, they made no sound. It was still and hushed in this small part of the world—almost as if the night held its breath in expectation. Or horror.

The darkness slid over my feet and ankles, and oddly felt like water. Thick, foul water that was colder than ice. It pressed my combat pants against my skin as it rose up my legs, and the weapons clipped to my thighs gained an odd, frosty sheen. I crossed mental fingers and hoped like hell this stuff didn’t damage them. I didn’t want to face whatever—whoever—might be waiting at the bottom of this crater without any means of protection.

The farther I moved down the slope—the deeper I got into the darkness—the harder every step became. Sweat trickled down my spine, but its cause wasn’t just the effort of moving forward. This stuff, whatever it was, scared me.

I reached back and pulled free one of the two slender machine rifles that were strapped to my back. I’d adapted them ages ago to fire small wooden stakes rather than bullets, simply because wood was deadlier than metal when it came to vampires—at least for shots to the body, which were generally easier. Stakes would poison them if they didn’t immediately kill; metal would not. But you had to hit them first for either weapon to cause any sort of damage, and that wasn’t always easy, given their shadowing ability.

Of course, there was a very big chance none of my weapons would work after this muck touched them, but I still felt better with the rifle’s weight in my hand.

The darkness washed up my stomach, over my breasts, then up to my neck. I raised my face in an effort to avoid becoming fully immersed for as long as possible. Which was stupid. It was just darkness, not water, no matter how much it felt otherwise. I wouldn’t drown in this stuff.

But could I breathe?

I took one final, deep breath, just in case, and then pushed on. The ink washed up my face and then over my head, and it suddenly felt like there was a ton of weight pressing down on me. Every step became an extreme effort; all too soon my leg muscles were quivering and it took every ounce of determination I had to keep upright, to keep moving.

I pressed on, but I really had no idea if I was heading in the right direction. Not only did the darkness envelop me, but it also stole all sense of time and direction. God, what if this was a trap? What if all along they’d intended nothing more than to lure me down here to get rid of me? Sal’s partners had to be aware of his death by now, just as they had to be aware that I was the one who’d found and rescued the five kids—after all, those kids had been nothing more than bait in an attempt to trap and kill me. That it hadn’t gone exactly as they’d hoped was due to good luck on my part rather than bad planning on their part. Or, rather, good luck and a whole lot of help from the adult déchet who haunted my bunker.

And while Sal’s partners might have no idea what I truly looked like—and therefore couldn’t stop me from entering their businesses in Central, or hunt me down—they were well aware that I lived in the old underground military bunker outside that city. And they’d undoubtedly realized I would not abandon the rest of those children.

I had been expecting some sort of retaliatory attack, but against our bunker rather than out here in the middle of nowhere.

If this was a trap, then it was one I’d very stupidly walked right into. But there was nothing I could do about that now. I just had to keep moving.

But the deeper I got, the more crushing the weight of the darkness became. My legs were beginning to bow under the pressure, my spine ached, and my shoulders were hunched forward. It felt as if I could topple over at any minute, and it took every ounce of concentration and strength to remain upright. May the goddess Rhea help me if I met anything coming up out of the crater, because I doubted I’d even have the energy to pull the rifle’s trigger.

Then, with little warning, the weight lifted and I was catapulted into fresh air and the regular night. I took a deep, shuddering breath and became aware of something else. Or rather, someone else.

Because I was no longer alone.

I slowly turned around. At the very bottom of the crater, maybe a dozen or so yards away from where I stood, there was a rift. A real rift, not a false one. It shimmered and sparked against the cover of night, and while the energy it emitted was foul, it nevertheless felt a whole lot cleaner than the thick muck I’d just traversed.

Standing in front of it were four figures—three with their backs to the rift, one standing facing it. The solo person was the dark-cloaked, hooded figure I’d been following. The other three . . .

I shuddered, even as I instinctively raised my weapon and fired. The other three were tall and thin, with pale translucent skin through which you could trace every muscle, bone, and vein. There was no hair on their bodies and they didn’t really have faces. Just big amber eyes and squashed noses.


And they reacted even as I did. Though none of them had anything resembling a mouth, they screamed—it was a high-pitched sound of fury I doubted any human would be capable of hearing, and it made my ears ache. The two front figures—the cowled man and the figure I presumed was the wraith’s leader—leapt sideways, out of the firing line. But the other two came straight at me. I kept firing, but the machine rifle’s wooden bullets bounced harmlessly off their translucent skin.

I slung the useless rifle back over my shoulder, unclipped the guns from my pants, then turned and fled into the soupy darkness. Just because I could fight didn’t mean I had to or wanted to—especially not when it came to wraiths. And two of them at that.

The darkness enveloped me once more. My pace slowed to a crawl, but my heart rate didn’t. I had no idea if this muck would affect them as it did me, and all I could do was pray to Rhea that it did. I didn’t want to die. Not here, not in this stuff, and certainly not at the hand of a wraith.

I forged on, hurrying as much as the heaviness would allow, my breath little more than shallow rasps of fear. While I couldn’t hear any sound of pursuit, I knew they were behind me. Ripples of movement washed across my spine, getting stronger and stronger as the wraiths drew closer.

Fresh energy surged into my legs. I ran on, desperate to reach the crater’s rim. I might not be any safer there, but I could at least fight a whole lot better out in the open.

The ground slipped from under my feet and I went down on one knee. Just for an instant, I caught a glimpse of starlight, and then a thick wave of movement hit my spine and knocked me sideways. Stones dug into my ribs as the air left my lungs in a huge whoosh. Claws appeared out of the ink—they were thick and blue and razor sharp, and would have severed my spine had the wind of their movement not hit me first. Luck, it seemed, hadn’t totally abandoned me.

I fired both weapons in a sweeping arc. I had no idea where the wraiths were, because the darkness had enclosed around those claws and the rippling movement seemed to be coming from several directions now. Something wet splashed across my skin and face—something that stung like acid and smelled like foul egg. I hoped it was blood, but I knew there were Others who could spit poison. With the way things were playing out tonight, it was probably the latter rather than the former.

I scrubbed a sleeve across my face but succeeded only in smearing whatever it was. I cursed softly, then thrust upright and scrambled toward the rim of the crater and that brief glimpse of starlight. If I had to fight, then I at least wanted to see my foe.

The ripples of movement didn’t immediately resume, and for an all-too-brief moment I thought maybe I’d killed them. It was a thought that swiftly died as those damn waves started up again.

There was nothing I could do. Nothing except keep running. Wraiths weren’t stupid; now that they knew I had weapons that could actually hurt them, they’d be a lot more cautious.

But, cautious or not, they were still moving through this muck a whole lot faster than me. I had one chance, and one chance only—I had to get out and put as much distance between them and me as possible.

The heavy darkness began to slide away from my body. I sucked down big gulps of air, trying to ease the burning in my lungs. It didn’t really help. I ran on, my speed increasing as the darkness retreated further, lifting the weight from my shoulders and spine. Then, finally, I was free from its grip and racing over the edge of the crater. I didn’t stop. I didn’t dare. I needed to gain as much distance as I could . . .

Movement, to my right. Instinct had me leaping left. Claws snagged the edge of my coat’s sleeve, ripping it from cuff to shoulder, but not cutting skin. I twisted away, raised the guns, and fired.

At nothing.

The creature was gone. I had no idea whether speed or magic was involved in that disappearance, and no time to contemplate it. I just kept on running. Stones bounced away from my steps, but this time there were no ghosts to dance in time to the sound.

More movement, this time to my left. I fired again. The shots ripped across the night but found no target. The stony hillside appeared empty, even though the foul presence of the wraiths stained the air.

If they were so damn fast—or, indeed, capable of hiding their presence through magic—why weren’t they attacking? Had they been ordered not to? Or were they like cats, preferring to play with their prey before closing in for the kill?

If it was the latter, then they were in for a shock, because this little mouse wasn’t about to go down without taking at least one of them with me.

The crest of the hill loomed above. Tombs and crosses reached for the stars like broken fingers reaching for help. But there was no safety to be found there, and the tombs themselves were just a reminder of my fate if I wasn’t very careful.

Stones clattered to my right; I swung a gun that way but didn’t fire. There was nothing there. They were playing with me. Fear pounded through my body, but there was little I could do but ignore it. I’d been in far worse situations than this and survived. I could survive this.

With luck.

I hoped.

The graveyard ghosts gathered near the top of the hill as I drew closer, but their energy was uneasy. Wary. I very much doubted they would have helped even if I could have asked them to. There was none of the anger in them that was so evident within the Carleen ghosts, and that probably meant this graveyard—and these ghosts—were prewar. In which case they’d have no experience or knowledge of wraiths, and no idea just how dangerous they could be.

One of the creatures appeared out of the night to my left—or, rather, his arm appeared. I ducked under his blow and fired both guns, but in the blink of an eye, his limb was gone again. The bullets ricocheted off the nearby rocks, sending sparks flying into the night.

How in Rhea could I fight—kill—these creatures if I couldn’t see them?

I guess I had to be grateful that I could at least hear them. Sometimes. More than likely when they actually wanted me to.

More sound, this time to my left—claws scrabbling across stone. If that noise was any indication, it was closing in fast. Perhaps it had decided playtime was over.

I couldn’t escape them—not in this form. Maybe it was time to try another . . .

Even as the thought entered my mind, something cannoned into my side and sent me tumbling. I hit the ground with a grunt but kept on rolling, desperate to avoid the attack I could feel coming.

I crunched into a large rock and stopped. The air practically screamed with the force of the creature’s approach; I raised the guns once more and ripped off several shots. Then I scrambled upright, only to be sent flying again. This time I hit face-first and skinned my nose and chin as I slid several feet back down the hill.

I had no time to recover. No time to even think. The creature’s weight landed in the middle of my back, and for too many seconds I couldn’t even breathe, let alone react. Its claws tore at my flesh, splitting the skin along my shoulder and sending bits of flesh splattering across the nearby rocks. It was still playing with me, because those claws could have—should have—severed my spine.

But the blood gushing down my arm and back was warning enough that if I didn’t move—didn’t get up and get away from this creature—I’d still be as dead as any of those who watched from the safety of their tombstones.

And there was only one way I had any hope of escaping—I had to call forth the vampire within me.

So I ignored the creature’s crushing weight, ignored the blood and the pain and the gore that gleamed wetly on the ground all around me, and sucked the energy of the night deep into my lungs. It filtered swiftly through every aching inch of me, until my whole body vibrated with the weight and power of it. The vampire within rose in a rush—undoubtedly fueled by fear and desperation—and swiftly embraced that darkness, becoming one with it, until it stained my whole being and took over. It ripped away flesh, muscle, and bone, until I was nothing more than a cluster of matter. Even my weapons and clothes became part of that energy. In this form, at least, I’d be harder to pin down.

I slipped out from under the wraith and fled upward toward the graveyard once again. But I wasn’t out of danger yet. I might now be as invisible to the mortal world as any vampire or, indeed, the wraiths themselves, but that didn’t mean they wouldn’t sense me. Didn’t mean they couldn’t kill me. The number of vampire bones I’d seen near active rifts over the years was testament to the fact that this particular vampire trick made little difference to a wraith’s ability to hunt and kill them.

I finally crested the hill and surged into the cemetery. In this form, I saw the spectral mass that was the gathered ghosts glimmering in the darkness. Their bodies were blurred, barely resembling anything humanoid, which meant I’d been right—these ghosts were very old indeed. Even so, I could taste their fear—of me, not of the things that pursued me. They might not know what wraiths were, but they were familiar with vampires and were now seeing me as one of them.

They wouldn’t help me.

Air began to stir around me again, buffeting my particles and sending a fresh spurt of fear through my body. They’d entered the graveyard . . . and in this form, I couldn’t use my weapons. I didn’t even have a vampire’s sharp claws to defend myself with. To use my weapons, I’d have to transform both them and my arms back to solidity, and a partial transformation wasn’t something I was particularly adept at.

I raced on, heading for Carleen, hoping against hope that the ghosts there would help me. Because if they didn’t . . .

I shoved the thought away. I could do this. I would do this. The lives of eight children lay on the line—or so Nuri believed. I very much doubted her statement—that if I didn’t find those children, no one would—had been just an attempt to bring me back into the fold. The desperation and fear in her eyes had been all too real.

Though I heard no sound of approach, claws slashed the trailing tendrils of my energy form. Particles spun away into the night, and pain ripped through the rest of me. Panic surged. I really was no safer in this form than the other. In fact, I was probably worse off because I couldn’t actually defend myself.

If I was destined to die this night, then, by Rhea, I would go down fighting in human form rather than in vampire.

I called to the darkness and reversed the process, becoming flesh from the head down. As my arms found form, I fired both guns over my shoulder, then to the left and the right. A high-pitched scream bit across the night and the rancid, metallic scent of blood washed through the air. I had no idea if I’d killed one of them or not, but at least I’d hit it. And if I could do that, I could kill them. Not that I was about to hang around and attempt it.

I raced on through the broken tombstones and shattered remnants of trees, my gaze on Carleen’s distant walls even as every other sense was trained on the night around me.

Air rushed past; a wraith, planning Rhea only knows what. I didn’t check my speed. Didn’t even fire. While my guns weren’t yet giving any indication that ammunition was running low, I couldn’t imagine it would be too far off. And while I was carrying extra ammo, I had neither the time nor the desire to reload. The minute I stopped, they would be on me—of that I was sure. The only other weapons I had were the machine rifles—which had already proven useless—and the two glass knives strapped to my wrists. They’d been built as a last resort, a weapon designed for hand-to-hand combat with a blade that was harder than steel. But there was no way I was about to get into a last-resort situation. Not when it came to wraiths, anyway.

Up ahead, air began to shimmer and spark. A heartbeat later, one of the wraiths appeared, blocking my path between two crumbling but still-ornate tombs. A thick, bloody wound stretched across its gut, and black blood oozed down its torso and legs. But if the wound was hampering it in any way, it wasn’t obvious. It flung its arms wide, its claws gleaming an alien, almost icy green. Sparks began to flicker between the razor-sharp tips, then spun off into the night. But they didn’t disappear. Instead, they began to cluster together, each tiny spark sending out tendrils to connect to another, and then another, until a rope began to form. A rope that glowed the same alien green as the creature’s claws and pulsated with an energy that made my skin crawl.

The wraiths weren’t trying to kill me—they were trying to capture me. I had no desire to know why, and certainly no intention of finding out. I swung left, attempting to outrun the still-forming rope. The wraith appeared in front of me again, the rope longer and beginning to curve toward me.

I switched direction, and again the same thing happened. I slid to a halt, raised the guns, and unleashed hell. The wraith’s body shook as the bullets tore through its flesh. Blood and gore splattered the ground all around it, but it neither moved nor stopped creating that leash. The two ends of the rope were close to joining now, and I very much suspected I did not want that to happen.

One of the guns began to blink in warning. I cursed and ran straight at the wraith. Firing from a distance seemed to have little effect, so maybe getting closer would be better. I had nothing to lose by trying—nothing but my life, and that was already on the line.

The second gun began to blink, but I didn’t let up and I didn’t stop. The closer I got, the more damage the guns did, but the creature didn’t seem to care. Its body and face was a broken, bloodied mass, and still it stood there, resolutely creating its leash. Did these things feel no pain?

The first gun went silent. I cursed again and did the only thing I could—I launched feetfirst at the creature. I hit it so hard my feet actually went through the mess of its chest, but the sheer force of my momentum knocked it backward and the shimmering around its claws abruptly died as it hit the ground hard. I landed on top of it, caught my balance, and then fired every remaining bullet at its head.

This time, I killed it.

But I didn’t rejoice. Didn’t feel any sense of elation. As the second creature emitted a scream that was both fury and anguish, I tore the two spare clips free from their holders on my pants, reloaded the guns, and ran on.

The twisted, rusting metal fence that surrounded the graveyard came into view. I leapt over it, my gaze on Carleen’s broken walls. But the wind that battered my back was warning enough that the other wraith was not only on the move, but closing in fast. And I could taste its fury; this one had no intention of corralling me, even if that had been their orders.

I reached for everything I had left, but my legs refused to go any faster. My body was on fire and my strength seemed to be leaching away as fast as the blood pouring down my arm, back, and face. It was sheer determination keeping me on my feet now, nothing else.

And determination wasn’t going to get me much farther. It certainly wouldn’t take me to Carleen. The city was simply too far away.

Bear, I wish you could keep your promise to be with me when I die.

But even as that thought crossed my mind, I locked it down. Hard. I might want to die in the arms of my little ones—just as they’d died in mine—but I wasn’t about to place either Bear or Cat in the middle of a dangerous situation. There were vampires in this world who could feed off energy—even the ectoplasmic energy of ghosts—and there might well be Others capable of doing the same.

Something smashed into my back and sent me tumbling. I landed faceup, staring at the stars—stars that danced in crazy circles across the wide, dark sky. I could barely even breathe, the pain was so great, but I nevertheless felt the approach of the creature. It was in the air and coming straight at me.

And this time, it wasn’t invisible.

I raised the guns and fired. It wouldn’t stop the creature, I knew that, but I didn’t have the energy to get up and there was nothing else I could do.

Everything seemed to slip into slow motion. I watched the ripple of air as the bullets cut through it and the creature’s gleaming claws gained length and began to drip with sparks. Saw the creature’s flesh shudder and jerk in rhythmic harmony with the bullets that tore into its body. Saw the ever-growing glow of determination and fury in its golden eyes. I might not be able to speak its language, but there were some things that needed no words or explanations. It wanted revenge and it wanted my death, and it didn’t care if it had to die as long as it took me with it.

I can’t die. There’s still too much I need to do.

But I guess someone else would have to do it.



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The 7: Pride by Scott Hildreth, Kerri Ann, M.C. Webb, Geri Glenn, Gwyn McNamee, FG Adams, Max Henry

Wolf Enforcer (Wolf Enforcers Book 1) by Jessica Aspen

Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Covet: Se7en Deadly SEALs #7 by Alana Albertson

Sweet Promises: A Candle Beach Sweet Romance by Nicole Ellis

Old Wounds: (A Havenwood Falls Novella) by Susan Burdorf

Claiming Fifi (A MFM Menage Romance) (Club Menage Book 1) by Tara Crescent

A Very Merry Romance (Madaris Series Book 21) by Brenda Jackson

MB1 Forever Mine by Elizabeth Reyes

The Highwayman's Bite (Scandals With Bite, #6) by Brooklyn Ann

Tempting Autumn: A Sexy New Zealand Romance (The Four Seasons Book 2) by Serenity Woods

Beauty in Lingerie: Lingerie #2 by Penelope Sky

Heir to Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson

Falling for Mr. Slater by Kendall Day