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BEWITCHING

the VAMPIRE




Carrie Pulkinen

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and

incidents are either the product of the author’s

imagination or are used fictitiously, and any

resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business

establishments, events, or locales, is entirely

coincidental.


Bewitching the Vampire

COPYRIGHT © 2017 by Carrie Pulkinen

Published by Smashwords

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or

reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written

permission of the author

except in the case of brief quotations embodied in

critical articles or reviews.


Contact Information: carrie.pulkinen@gmail.com

PO Box 57623

Webster, TX 77598

www.CarriePulkinen.com

Second Edition, 2017

ISBN: 9781370057832

Published in the United States of America

Table of Contents

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Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

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About the Author


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CHAPTER ONE


The stench of rotting garbage assaulted Cassie McClain’s senses as she stepped around an overflowing dumpster and followed Trinity into the alley. Her friend’s long blonde hair swished down her back as she hopped over a steamy puddle and turned to wait for her.

“Are you sure this is the right place?” Cassie’s heel landed in the water. She shook her foot, splattering muddy droplets against a brick wall. The New Orleans summer heat hung over the French Quarter like a hot, wet towel draped across the city, making Cassie’s curls twist tighter on her head.

“I’m positive.” Trinity’s straight locks seemed immune to the humidity, her longs bangs falling into her eyes as she nodded toward a door. “This is it.”

Cassie scrunched up her nose. “They could’ve picked a better spot for the entrance. What’s with the garbage and potholes?”

“It’s not the kind of place that wants to draw attention to itself.”

“True.”

“And we need to get out of this alley before we draw any attention to ourselves.” Trinity linked her arm through Cassie’s and stepped toward the plain wooden door. No sign hung above announcing the club’s existence. Only a single, bare lightbulb cast a dim glow over the entrance.

Cassie hesitated, a slight sensation of nausea rolling through her stomach. “I can’t believe I’m doing this. My mom’s going to kill me.”

Trinity put her hands on her shoulders. “You’re twenty-two years old. Where you hang out is not your mom’s decision to make.”

“I know. It’s not that. It’s just…this is dangerous. We’re exposing ourselves.”

“We’re exposing ourselves by standing in this alley. Once we go inside, we’re perfectly safe. Everyone in there is like us. We belong here, with these people. I’m tired of hiding.”

Cassie straightened her spine. “You’re right. I’m tired of it too. Let’s go have some fun.”

Trinity pulled open the door, and they stepped into a narrow, dimly lit hallway. A monster of a man stood in front of them, blocking the entry. Standing at least six foot six, he crossed his thick arms over his muscular chest, his pecs threatening to bust out of his tight black t-shirt. He looked them up and down and leaned forward to sniff the air.

His deep orange aura screamed werewolf, and Cassie avoided looking him directly in the eyes.

“Witches.” He let out a grunt and stepped aside, granting them access to the long, dark hallway.

Cassie’s heart rate kicked up as they padded toward the club entrance. Thanks to her ability to see auras, she could spot any supernatural being within her field of vision. But she knew better than to call anyone out in public. Humans were less than friendly to those who possessed magic, so most of the supernatural community kept their abilities secret.

But Club Hecate was an exclusive facility for the supernatural community only. Most humans didn’t know it existed. And if the rotting garbage and muddy potholes outside didn’t deter anyone who might be curious, the giant werewolf guarding the front door would certainly scare them away.

She took a deep breath and pushed open the door, bracing herself for the onslaught of noise and thumping bass. But soft jazz music floated through the air as couples slow-danced near a small stage. A hundred or so people milled around, chatting and drinking, and acting so very…normal. Had she not been able to see the auras and feel the buzzing energy of so much magic concentrated in one room, she would have never guessed this was a supernatural club.

“Well, this isn’t what I was expecting at all.”

Trinity pulled her toward the bar. “What were you expecting?”

“Ear-splitting bass. Writhing bodies. Sweat. Blood. There are a lot of vampires here, so…blood.”

Her friend laughed and ordered two beers. “There’s a different theme every night. I purposely brought you to jazz night to avoid all that.” She took a swig. “And as for the blood. You know vampires only feed on humans, so…” She nodded toward the bartender filling a glass with thick, red liquid. “O positive on tap.”

“Ew.”

Trinity shrugged. “Most of the guys here are vampires. The good-looking ones anyway.”

She swept her gaze across the crowd. Most of the male auras she spotted did glow a deep crimson. And most of the men they belonged to were attractive. “Why are vampires so hot? They should share some of that hotness with the other men. You know, level the playing field.”

“I don’t know. Concentrating all that heat into one guy looks pretty good to me.”

Cassie sipped her beer, savoring the effervescence as it slid down her throat. This was the first time she’d been anywhere in public where she didn’t have to hide her abilities. Seeing all these supernatural beings together in one place had her head spinning with excitement. Still… “My mom would kill me if I dated a vampire.”

“She’s still hung up on that vague premonition dream? She didn’t even see the vampire, did she?”

“No, but I was dying, and the scene was tinted red, which means there were vampires around. I’m not even allowed to befriend one, much less date one.” She shrugged and picked at the label on her bottle. “She says they’re bad news, and she’d freak if she knew I was surrounded by so many of them now.”

Trinity downed her beer and set the bottle on the bar. “Good thing she doesn’t know then. Do you believe her?”

“Not really. She only had the dream once, when she was pregnant with me. It was probably hormones.”

Her friend grinned. “So you would consider dating a vampire?”

“I don’t know. There’s also the fact that they live forever and witches don’t. If I dated one, as soon as I got old, he’d leave me for a newer model. Then there’s the blood.” She shivered. “I don’t think I could handle that.”

“That’s a shame.”

“Why?”

Trinity nodded her head at something over Cassie’s shoulder. “Because that particular vampire has got his eye on you.”

“Who?” She spun around, and her gaze landed on the bluest pair of eyes she’d ever seen. They sparkled like sapphires, their deep hue pulling her in, drowning her senses. She blinked and looked away, but something about him drew her attention back. He had dark, wavy hair and wore jeans and a blue shirt that drew her gaze back toward his eyes. “Wow.”

“Go talk to him.”

Her body instinctively drifted toward him, and her feet followed, involuntarily carrying her closer to the vampire. She shook herself to break the trance. “No. I can’t. He’s doing something to me with his eyes. He’s glamouring me.”

Trinity laughed. “You know that doesn’t work on witches. Whatever you’re feeling for him is coming from you.” She clutched her arm. “Wait. I recognize him.”

He rose from his chair and strode toward her. Oh, god. What should she do? Her mother would tell her to run, but she couldn’t deny the intensity of the feelings swirling inside her, the magnetism she felt toward this stranger. She took another step toward him.

“Cassie, that’s Branan Sinclair.”

Her friend’s words froze her to the spot. “Lord Sinclair?”

“Yeah.”

“That hunk of a man with the kind, blue eyes is the ruthless, supernatural leader of the city? Are you sure?”

“I’m positive. What are you going to do?”

Her pulse quickened as he approached. He moved with the grace of a cat, his gaze never leaving hers. He flashed a small smile, though the perplexed look in his eyes confused her. Maybe he wasn’t interested in her. Maybe he just wanted to ask her a question. Whatever it was, she had no choice but to talk to him. Her attraction to him aside, he was the ruler of the city. She couldn’t just walk away.

He stopped two feet in front of her. “Hello. I’m Branan Sinclair.” His deep, velvety voice wrapped around her, holding her captive.

“It’s nice to meet you, Lord Sinclair. My name is Cassandra.” Her stomach fluttered at the intensity of his gaze. “But you can call me Cassie.”

“And you can call me Branan.” He held out his hand. “Dance with me, Cassie.”

“Okay.” She cast a wide-eyed glance at Trinity and placed her hand in his.

He sucked in a sharp breath and hesitated for a split second before regaining his composure. Had she not been watching him so intently, she wouldn’t have noticed the slight shift in his demeanor.

His gaze swam down her body, and back up to meet hers, that same perplexed look returning to his eyes. “You’re a witch.”

“Is that a problem?”

“We will see.”

* * *

Branan pulled Cassie into his arms and swayed softly to the music. What on earth was he doing dancing with a witch? He’d made the mistake of loving one once, and he had no intention of letting it happen again.

Still, he couldn’t deny the jolt that shot through his heart the moment she looked at him. She was destined to be his mate; he knew it without a doubt.

But destiny got it wrong this time.

He groaned inwardly as she slid her hand up his back and pressed her body to his. She felt the attraction too. There was no denying it. And he wanted nothing more than to take her home and make love to her. To give her all the pleasure such a beautiful creature deserved.

And then watch her rip his heart out and shred it.

He couldn’t pursue her. But he couldn’t seem to let her go.

The slow, sultry song ended, and the band played an upbeat tune. A swarm of people flooded the dance floor, so he took Cassie by the hand and led her to a door in the back of the club. She hesitated, glancing behind her as if she didn’t trust him.

If she knew anything about his reputation, she shouldn’t trust him.

“Where are we going?” Her voice floated over the music, creating a sweeter melody than any song could produce.

“It’s loud in here. I thought we’d go somewhere quieter so we can talk.”

She pulled her hand from his. “Where?”

“To the roof. Just to talk. I promise.” He smiled and placed his palm against her cheek. Her skin felt like silk against his fingers, warm and soft.

“Okay.” She leaned her face into his touch and returned his smile. Her gaze held too much trust. If she knew what was good for her, she’d leave while she could.

A melting sensation formed in his chest, and he had to look away before the innocence in her eyes made him reconsider. A nagging voice in the back of his mind screamed at him not to do this. He ignored it. He had no choice.

He guided her through the door and up the fire escape. Her round backside in his face as he climbed the ladder did nothing to squelch the burning desire in his core.

But Cassie was an angel. A goddess who deserved so much more than to be doomed to the darkness with a vampire. He hadn’t seen the sun in five hundred years, but he could imagine it glinting off her raven hair, shining in her eyes.

As they reached the roof, she turned to him, pinning him with her dark gaze. “Why did you bring me up here?”

“I told you. So we can talk.”

She rubbed her arms and swallowed hard. “Are you going to…drink from me?”

Amusement curved his lips. Surely, she knew vampires only fed on humans. “Do you want me to?”

“No.” Her answer came too quickly.

He had no intention of feeding from her, but her instant rejection stung. He blinked and recomposed himself before speaking. “Good. Magic blood has a rather bitter taste. I would’ve hated to disappoint you if you did.”

Her posture relaxed, a ghost of a smile returning to her lips. “Well, if you don’t want to drink my blood, what do you want from me?”

His stomach tightened at the playful look in her eyes. Did she have any idea what she was doing to him? “I want to get to know you. I’m drawn to you, Cassie. The moment our eyes met, something stirred in my soul.”

A pink blush spread across her cheeks as she cast her gaze to the floor. “I didn’t know who you were at first. I’ve never seen you before.”

“And I, unfortunately, have never seen you. With most of our kind in hiding, it’s hard to know who possesses a supernatural gift.”

“Oh, I knew you were a vampire. I can see magic in people’s auras.”

“That would be a convenient ability. I can sense magic, but I don’t know for sure unless I touch someone.” He took her hand between both of his and fought the urge to pull her into his arms. Good god, but he wanted to kiss her. His mouth watered at the thought of her warm lips pressed to his.

“What did you think I was before you touched me?”

He lifted a shoulder and stroked his thumb across the back of her hand. “A fairy, perhaps. Werewolf. Honestly, I didn’t think about what you were. I only knew I had to meet you.”

“You’re nothing like I expected.”

“What did you expect?”

She bit her bottom lip and stepped toward him. “I thought you’d be old.”

“I am very old.”

“You don’t look a day over twenty-five.”

“I was twenty-seven when I was turned.”

She inched closer and rested a hand on his chest, sending a jolt straight to his heart. “And you have such a…scary reputation. I didn’t expect the kindness in your eyes.”

“You see kindness in my eyes?” He slid his hands to her hips, his heart sprinting in his chest. Maybe the fates did get it right. Maybe he needed to place his heart in the hands of a witch to finally let go of his past.

“Kindness, among other things.”

“Like?”

“Passion. Longing.” She snaked her hands around the back of his neck, and his core tightened. His entire body ached to be with this woman. She saw past his ruthless leader façade and found the man beneath. The man he’d buried five hundred years ago. Was it possible to resurrect him? If the burning desire pulsing through his veins was any indication, he would enjoy finding out.

“I would like to kiss you now, Cassie.”

“I’d like that too.”

He only hesitated for a fraction of a second. She felt too good in his arms to waste the moment. He lightly brushed his lips against hers, lingering near her mouth, inhaling the intoxicating scent of her skin. When she didn’t pull away, he kissed her again. Harder this time. With purpose.

Her lips parted on a gasp, and he couldn’t help but slip his tongue out to taste her. She was sweet, her lips soft like velvet, and when she pressed her curves against him, a shudder ran through his body. She melded to him, conforming to his shape so not even a wisp of air existed between them. Her kiss silenced the nagging voice in his mind reminding him to stay away from witches. He needed this witch like he’d never needed anything in his existence.

As the passion slowed, she pulled away and gazed into his eyes. “I’ve never kissed a vampire before.”

If only he could say she was his first witch. Then again, had he never kissed the first one, he wouldn’t be alive today. “And did I live up to your expectations?”

She bit her bottom lip in such a seductive way, his knees nearly buckled. “I didn’t even notice your fangs.”

“They generally don’t get in the way.”

She opened her mouth like she wanted to speak, but she snapped it shut and narrowed her eyes.

“What is it?” He leaned down for another kiss, lightly brushing his lips to hers. Warmth flushed through his body, pooling in his groin. He could’ve taken her right there on the roof, but he refrained. When he made love to Cassie—and he would make love to her—he wanted to be sure she knew he wanted more than her body. He wanted her heart and soul.

She closed her eyes and murmured a soft mmm, a satisfied smile curving her pink lips. “I know it sounds crazy, but I feel like I know you. Like I’ve known you all my life.”

He ran his fingers through her curls and marveled at the delicate way they bounced back as he released her hair. Everything about her marveled him. “That’s not crazy. I think we’re soul mates, Cassie. Destined to be together.”

“I like the sound of that.” Resting her head against his chest, she slid her arms around his waist and held him tight. “If I didn’t have to work in the morning, I’d stay here with you all night.”

Morning. How long had it been since he’d seen a sunrise? He wrapped his arms around her and pressed his lips to her soft hair. Would Cassie be willing to give up the sun in order to be with him? If he turned her, she’d have no choice. Then he could spend forever with the most beautiful woman he’d ever met.

If he could turn her. Cursing a human was a simple process, but the magic already in Cassie’s blood would fight his own. He was powerful enough though. He could do it. But should he curse the woman he loved to a never-ending life of darkness?

“Oh, shoot.” She pulled away and took a phone from her pocket. “My friend, Trinity, is ready to leave. She’s my ride home.” She typed in a response, but he covered her hand with his before she could send it.

“I could take you home.”

She pulled from his grasp and pressed the send button. “As tempting as that sounds, my mother would die if a vampire brought me home.”

His chest tightened. Of course, she had a family. And a mother who wouldn’t approve. “Your mother doesn’t like vampires?”

She let out a cynical laugh. “Not at all.”

“And yet, here you stand, wrapped in my arms.” He pulled her close and pressed his lips to her cheek.

Her body relaxed, molding into his like she was made for him. She was made for him. He stood there silently, holding his destiny in his arms and banishing all thought from his mind. This moment was all that mattered.

Cassie sighed. “I just don’t see how she can judge an entire race based on the would-be actions of one person.”

He nuzzled into her hair and inhaled deeply. “I do.”

“You do?” She pulled away, concern furrowing her beautiful brow.

“I’m not known for being fond of witches.”

She stepped back, a hint of fear flashing in her eyes. “Then why are you here, with me?”

“I’ve been asking myself the same question since the moment I touched you.” The nagging thoughts came crashing through his mind, but he tried to squelch them.

She pressed her fingertips to her lips. “I don’t understand. What’s wrong with witches?”

He sighed and closed the distance between them. “I made the mistake of loving one once. Then she stabbed me in the back. Both figuratively and literally.” He raked a hand through his hair and turned away. What had possessed him to share this story with her? What good could possibly come from dredging up the past?

Cassie inhaled a small gasp. “Your wife was a witch? I’ve heard the stories, but I didn’t think it was true.”

“It’s not true. Well, not all of it anyway.”

“What part is?”

Should he tell her the real story? What actually happened? His reputation depended on the fear the rumors instilled. If he told her, and she betrayed him, it could be his undoing.

Or perhaps not. It happened so long ago, and his rule here was well-established. His heart told him he could trust her, but his thoughts…If he could only silence his thoughts.

She put a hand on his shoulder, and a sense of calm washed over him. “Please, Branan. I need to know.”

“The more important question is what part isn’t true.” He turned to her, cupping her face in his hands, gliding his thumbs across her cheeks. “I did not kill my wife.”

Relief filled her eyes, and she slid her hands behind his neck and pressed her body to his. “I knew you didn’t. There’s far too much kindness in your eyes.”

If she knew the parts that were true, she may not think him so kind. “I would never hurt you, Cassie. You have no need to fear me.”

“I’m not afraid. It’s my mom who has a problem with it, but I’ll work on her. Give me some time to get her warmed up to the idea, okay?”

“I have all the time in the world.”

Her phone buzzed in her pocket. “That’s probably Trinity. I have to go.”

“I must see you again. Can I take you to dinner tomorrow night?”

She chewed her bottom lip and blinked up at him as if unsure of her answer. God, he wanted her to be sure. Did she not feel the intensity of their union?

“Dinner sounds great. But, I’ll meet you here. What time?”

“Ten.”

“I’ll be here.”

He followed her down the fire escape and into the club. Her friend met her at the door and raked a concerned gaze over them both. “Where have you been? Are you okay?”

Cassie caught his gaze, her smile melting his heart. “I’m fantastic.”

Trinity tugged her elbow. “Sorry to pull you away, but we’ve got to go.”

“Okay.” She took his hand. “So, I’ll see you tomorrow?”

“Indeed.” And every day after that for the rest of her life if he had his way.

She rose onto her toes and pressed her lips to his, gently coaxing them apart with her tongue. A possessive growl emanated from his chest, and he tried to muffle the sound as he wrapped his arms around her. Did she have any idea the effect she had on him? How quickly she’d stolen his heart?

She pulled away and pressed her fingers to her swollen lips. “Bye, Branan.”

“I’ll see you soon.”


CHAPTER TWO


Cassie’s heart jackhammered in her chest as she hopped over a muddy pothole in the alley and made her way toward the unmarked entry. She’d told her mom she was meeting Trinity at a piano bar and spending the night at her place. Branan only mentioned having dinner, but if the heat between them last night was any indication of how things would go tonight, she’d need some kind of excuse for not getting home until morning.

A pang of guilt shot through her chest as she heaved open the wooden door. She’d never lied to her mom before. Then again, she’d never had the need. Her fear of vampires was unfounded. She couldn’t be prejudice against an entire race because of one bad dream—no matter how often her dreams came true.

And wrapped in Branan’s strong embrace, Cassie had never felt safer. Everything about him felt so right, her previous doubts about dating a vampire seemed silly. She beamed a smile at the massive werewolf guarding the entry, and he grunted and stepped aside, letting her pass.

The walls of the dark hallway vibrated with bass as she hurried toward the club entrance. Her feet barely touching the floor, she glided inside, excitement filling her body with tingling energy.

This was the atmosphere she’d expected last night. A DJ stood on stage, and thumping bass blasted through the speakers as bodies writhed and gyrated on the dance floor. The crowd had doubled…possibly tripled in size from the previous night, and the music was so loud, her head pounded with the beat.

It didn’t matter. As soon as she found Branan, they could get the hell out of that place and go somewhere quieter. More intimate. Where did he plan to take her for dinner?

Wait a minute. Did vampires even eat food? She’d spent her whole life avoiding them. She didn’t know much about them at all. Oh, well. If Branan was right, and they really were soul mates, she’d learn everything she needed to know from the sexiest man she’d ever met.

She scanned the crowd surrounding the dance floor but couldn’t find him. He didn’t seem like the type to be bumping and grinding to the pounding music, so she didn’t bother looking on the floor. He wasn’t at the bar. And he wasn’t at the table she’d found him at last night.

Her throat thickened. Where was he? He did say to meet him here at ten o’clock, didn’t he? Her breath hitched. Of course, he was on the roof. He had to be.

She pranced to the back door and flung it open, half-expecting to find him waiting right outside. The alley was empty. She peered up at the fire escape. The climb seemed much more daunting alone, but Branan was waiting for her, so she’d have to make the ascent.

One hand above the other, the rough steel of the ladder bit into her palms as she hoisted herself up. Halfway to the second floor, she dared a look down, and her foot slipped off the rung. Her heart lodged in her throat, but she regained her footing and pulled herself up the remaining steps to the top.

She stumbled onto the roof and pressed a hand to her chest, trying to slow her breathing. The sultry night air clung to her body like a second skin, and she wiped the dampness from her forehead. Where was Branan? She paced to the other side of the building and peered over the edge to the sidewalk below.

A group of college-age boys looked up at her, and one of them waved. She jerked back out of sight and stumbled to the center of the roof. Spinning in a slow circle, she raked her gaze across the entire building and the ones on either side, but there was no trace of her vampire. Had she misheard him?

She pulled out her phone and checked the time. Ten twenty-five. He had definitely said he’d meet her at ten. Maybe he was inside the club, and she’d just missed him.

Clambering her way down the ladder, she made it to the ground with only a small scrape on her forearm. Hopefully that would be her last foray with a fire escape.

Who was she kidding? She’d climb it twenty times a night if Branan wanted her to. Smoothing her hair away from her face, she leaned into the door, but it wouldn’t budge. The knob was locked.

“Well, crap.” She’d thought the side alley entrance to the club was dank and smelly, but the back alley had it beat a hundred times over. A swarm of flies hovered over a rusty green dumpster that overflowed with who-knew-how-old garbage from the club. The faint stench of death lingered in the air, and she could only hope a rat carcass or some other dead rodent was emitting the rancid odor. She wrapped her arms around herself and hurried to the side of the building.

As she rounded the corner, her foot landed in a pothole, and her ankle twisted. Sharp pain shot up her leg, and she clutched her shin, hopping on one foot to lean against the wall. She rotated her foot, shaking off the pain, until she could walk again.

With only a slight limp, she made it back into the club and scanned the room. The clock on her phone read ten forty-five, and Branan was nowhere to be seen. Surely he hadn’t stood her up.

She hobbled to the bar and slid onto a stool. There had to be an explanation.

The bartender leaned a thick, hairy arm on the countertop. His orange werewolf aura sparkled with blue. One of his parents was a witch, an interesting combination she’d liked to have known more about. But at this moment, finding Branan was the only thing on her mind.

“What can I get you, sweetheart?”

She could barely hear his voice over the thumping bass. “Is Branan…I mean, have you seen Lord Sinclair tonight?”

The werewolf grunted. “He never comes down on Thursdays. If you’ve got a problem, you can talk to his assistant.” He nodded to a blond vampire who seemed to be in the process of seducing a fairy. “That’s the closest most people ever get to Lord Sinclair anyway.” He spat the title with disdain. Branan’s reputation didn’t win him many friends in the magical community, but it definitely demanded respect. This werewolf probably wouldn’t have spoken that way to his face.

“Thanks.” She turned toward the assistant, but remained on the stool. She didn’t trust her legs to hold her weight. Had Branan stood her up? After the intimacy they shared? The heat of his embrace? Had she mistaken the kindness in his eyes? Surely the words he’d said meant something.

Or had he only said those things to get her into bed? When she turned down his invitation to drive her home, he had let her go easily. Was sex all he was after? Pressure mounted in the back of her eyes, but she would not shed tears. Not yet. Maybe his assistant knew something. Maybe Branan was called away on business. Maybe he had a good reason for standing her up. At this moment, she’d accept any excuse over the fact that was becoming glaringly obvious.

She rose to her feet and shuffled toward the blond vampire. As she stood behind his right shoulder, his gaze never left the fairy’s chest. “What can I do for you?” His smooth, velvet voice reminded her of Branan’s.

She swallowed the thickness from her throat. “Umm…I was just wondering if you had seen Lord Sinclair tonight.”

He flicked out his tongue to lick the fairy’s neck. “Of course, I’ve seen him tonight. I see him every night.”

“Oh.” What a stupid question. Focus, Cass. What are you trying to say? “Do you know if he’s coming to the club tonight? I was supposed to meet him here.”

He finally tore his gaze away from the woman and looked at her. “He has no business here tonight.”

No business. Of course, he didn’t. “He didn’t say anything about meeting anyone?”

“No.” The vampire turned back to his fairy, ending the conversation.

Cassie tried to blink back her tears, but they rolled down her cheeks. She shrunk in on herself, wishing more than anything that she could disappear. The thrumming of the music pounded in her head, pressing in on her, suffocating. She had to get out of that club.

Choking down a sob, she ran for the door. She made it to the hallway, only to find the giant werewolf bouncer blocking her exit.

“Excuse me.” She tried to step around him, but he caught her by the arm.

“Are you okay?”

She wiped beneath her eyes. “I’m fine.”

“You don’t look fine.”

“Well, I am.” She lifted her chin, trying feebly to convince him. To convince herself.

He tilted his head to the side and pursed his lips. This man was not going to let her go unless she gave him a better answer.

“I got stood up, okay? I just want to go home.”

He released her arm and patted her on the back. An awkwardly kind gesture coming from such a fearsome-looking man. “It was a vamp, wasn’t it?”

She nodded.

“Vampires are assholes.”

Sob-soaked laughter bubbled from her chest. “Yes. Yes, they are.”

“Do you need me to call you a cab?”

“No, I took the bus. Thank you.”

He nodded and opened the door for her. “Be careful out there.”

“Always.”

How could she have been so naïve? So stupid? To think for a moment a man as attractive as Branan would be interested in her was ludicrous. He was the most powerful vampire in all of New Orleans. He had better things to do than waste his time on a simple witch. When he didn’t get her into bed last night, he probably moved on to the next woman who would sleep with him.

She sighed and made her way out of the smelly alley. So much for finding her place in the supernatural community. Her mom was right. She was better off staying deep in hiding. Pretending to be a normal human for the rest of her life. She rounded the corner and headed for Canal Street to catch the next bus home.

“Hey! Excuse me, Miss.” The voice came from behind her, so she slowed her pace. Was he talking to her?

“Ma’am. Excuse me.”

She turned around and found the guy who’d waved to her from the sidewalk earlier. He had sandy-blond hair, sheared short on the sides and shaggy on top, and bright blue eyes. Not nearly as blue as Branan’s, but she doubted she’d ever see his eyes again.

He smiled and shoved his hands in his pockets. “Where are you going?”

He had a nice smile. No fangs. Not that Branan’s fangs got in the way, but…Oh! She needed to stop thinking about him. “Home. I’ve had a bad day. Excuse me.” She turned to go, but he caught her hand.

“Wait a minute. My name’s Adam. What’s yours?”

She pulled from his grasp. “Cassie.”

“Well, Cassie. My friends and I were about to head over to The Cat’s Meow for a little karaoke. Do you want to join us? Maybe end your rotten day on a high note?”

She glanced at his group. All humans, she could tell from their pale gold auras. A few women had joined them, and they appeared nice enough. Adam was cute, too, though he was nothing compared to Branan. She cringed. She had to get that vampire out of her mind.

Why not go with them? There was no harm in having a little fun. She straightened her spine and took a deep breath. Anything to tear her thoughts away from what an idiot she’d been with Branan. “Sure. I’ll tag along if you don’t mind.”

He beamed a smile and held out his arm, so she laced her hand around his bicep.

“Hey, guys. This is Cassie. She’s coming with us.”

Adam’s friends smiled and said hello, welcoming her into the group like an old friend. This was exactly what she needed to get her mind off her failed attempt at dating a vampire. A night out with normal humans. Doing normal human things.

As they reached the bar, a pair of middle-aged women took to the stage and performed a drunken version of Barracuda. The girls from the group raced toward the DJ to sign up for a song, and the guys huddled around the bar, leaving Cassie alone in the crowd.

She rubbed her arms and stared at Adam’s back as he laughed with his friends. Oh, not again. Did she not fit in anywhere? She stepped toward the door to leave, but Adam caught her by the hand. “Where are you running off to?”

“Oh, I uh…I wasn’t running off.”

“Here, do a shot with me.” He handed her a small glass filled with bright pink liquid. His own was a golden-brown.

“I don’t really do shots.” She tried to hand it back to him, but he refused to take it.

“Come on. Just one. It’ll make you feel better.”

She sniffed the sweet drink and cringed. “What is it?”

“I told the bartender to make you something girly. You didn’t look like the whiskey type.” He held up his own glass and swirled the liquid. “To making bad days better. Cheers.” He clinked his glass to hers and threw back the shot.

“What the hell.” She downed her drink and shuddered as the liquid clawed its way down her throat. For a sweet, girly drink, it sure did burn.

Adam took a step back, his sweet smile never wavering. “Hurts, doesn’t it?”

“What was that?” She clutched her throat.

“Poison. But don’t worry, it acts slowly. You’ll have plenty of time to get home before it burns you up from the inside out. Come on, I’ll walk you to the bus stop.” He wrapped his arm around her shoulders and led her out the door, as if poisoning someone was the most natural thing in the world.

The entire earth seemed to tip on its side as she stumbled on the sidewalk. A fire burned from her stomach to the top of her throat, and her vision swam as a thick fog took over her brain. “Why?” She only managed to croak out the word.

Adam shrugged and smiled a disarming smile. “What are you? A werewolf? You’re not a vampire.”

“A witch.” Her throat felt scorched, like the flesh was melting from her esophagus.

“Now you’re one less witch New Orleans has to deal with. And I’ll get to move up in the ranks.”

“I don’t understand.” Her stomach roiled, and she doubled over against the pain.

Adam righted her and leaned her against a wall at the bus stop. “Your kind are cursed, Cassie. All of you. You don’t belong in this world. It’s nothing personal. I actually think you’re kind of pretty.” He tucked her hair behind her ear and wiped a tear that rolled down her cheek. “I saw you on the roof of that club. And when you came out alone, I couldn’t waste the chance. Killing a heathen was the last task I had to complete to become a fully commissioned member of the Pillars of Righteousness.”

“That’s a real thing?” The words ripped through her throat like sandpaper. She’d heard about humans organizing hate groups against the supernatural community, but she’d never actually met a member.

“Of course it is. We’re going to get rid of you all. One by one if that’s what it takes. Here’s your ride.” He helped her up the steps and guided her to a seat.

The fog in her brain thickened to a coagulated slush. She should have been panicking, but every thought that tried to form in her mind sank into the murky, poisonous muck before she could grab hold. Was this really happening? Did this sweet man with the friendly smile actually poison her? Her head spun, and she clutched the side of her seat.

Kissing the top of her head, he gave her shoulder a squeeze and lowered his lips to her ear. “Thank you for your sacrifice, Cassie.”

“Adam…” She reached for him as he stepped off the bus.

“My name isn’t Adam.” He waved as the bus rolled away.

* * *

Branan raked his fingers through his hair and exhaled a curse. What the hell was his problem? Everything about the witch called to him. Her smile, her voice, her touch, her kiss. He could still taste her sweetness on his lips from the night before.

Rising from his chair, he paced around the desk. The clock on the wall read ten forty-five. If he went downstairs to the club now, she might still be there.

But he couldn’t. As much as his heart ached to make her his own, she deserved better. She deserved light. A family. Someone she could grow old with.

He sat on the edge of his desk and watched the minute hand tick. He’d hurt her. Of that he was certain. He’d filled her head with promises of tomorrow and given her nothing more than a single night. And even that was more than he should have given her.

It was selfish of him to take her on the roof. To kiss her the way he did. He’d known, deep down, even as he held her in his arms, they could never be together. She was a witch. He was cursed to a lonely life. And Cassie was better off without him.

But could he survive without her?

The minute hand inched its way toward eleven o’clock, a panic growing in his chest with each passing tick. What had he done? They belonged together. He could feel it in his soul. But destiny be damned, he would not curse her to the darkness.

A pained growl resonated from his chest, and he grabbed the edge of the massive oak desk and flipped it on its side. Its contents crashed to the floor, scattering about the wood, and he kicked the laptop into the wall. The plastic case crumpled with a satisfying crunch, but his act of aggression did nothing to calm his racing thoughts.

He was going insane. He wanted her. He didn’t want her. Why couldn’t he make up his mind?

He needed to find her. She at least deserved an explanation. He had to make her understand what being with him would mean. What she would have to give up. Then he’d leave it up to her to decide. It was her life, after all.

The clock glared at him from the wall, its monotonous ticking taunting him. He’d told Cassie he had all the time in the world, but she certainly didn’t. Her lifespan was limited to that of a human, and he couldn’t waste a single second.

He threw open the office door and raced downstairs to the club. He could barely hear his own thoughts through the incessant thrumming of the music, but he managed to find Thomas in the crowd.

“Was she here?”

His assistant checked his watch. “She left half an hour ago. I followed her out like you asked, but she met up with a group of humans and went to Bourbon Street.”

“Humans.”

“I heard them mention the karaoke bar. You might be able to catch her there.”

“Thank you, Thomas.” He dashed for the door and nearly plowed into the bouncer on his way out.

The werewolf grunted and bowed his head, stepping aside for him to pass.

Branan lurched toward him, backing him into the wall. “The witch who left earlier, with the curly black hair. Was she…distraught?”

“In tears. Want me to find the asshole who hurt her?”

He clenched his jaw and fought the urge to pound his fist into the man’s face. “I’m the asshole.”

The werewolf’s eyes grew wide. “I’m sorry, sir. I didn’t mean—”

Branan shoved his way past the bouncer, into the alley. Cassie was distraught. In tears. And he was to blame.

But what was she doing with a group of humans? Had she sought them out after he’d abandoned her? Or had they seen her leaving the club alone and approached her with ill intent? His stomach sank at the thought.

As he rounded the corner onto Canal, he stopped short. Cassie walked toward the bus stop with a tall, blond man who had his arm wrapped around her shoulders.

Jealousy twisted a knot in his core. How dare another man touch her? His hands clenched into fists at his sides, and it took every ounce of willpower he could muster to stop him from tearing the bastard apart. Cassie belonged to him.

But she didn’t, and he needed to remember that. As much as seeing her with another man ripped at his heart, she was better off. This man could give Cassie everything he could not.

He stepped back into the shadows and watched as the man helped her onto the bus and kissed the top of her head. Branan’s chest deflated. His witch had moved on already.

The man smiled and waved as the bus rolled away, and Branan trudged back to his office. His witch had made up his mind for him. No more indecision. Cassie had found another, and Branan could finally put her out if his mind.

As if that were possible.


CHAPTER THREE

“Please, just let me die.” Cassie pleaded with her mom, who pressed the cup of tea to her parched lips. She sipped the hot liquid, though it did nothing to soothe the raw flesh of her throat. It already felt like she’d swallowed hot coals. “Something cold, please?”

Her mother made a tisking sound with her tongue and left the room for a brief moment. She returned with a bowl of vanilla ice cream and spooned it into Cassie’s mouth. Shock from the bitter cold made her flinch, but she relaxed as the creamy frost slid down her throat, temporarily cooling her inflamed esophagus.

Setting the bowl on the nightstand, her mother resumed coaxing her to drink the tea. “I know the ice cream makes you feel better, but this tea is what’s keeping you alive, sweetheart. You have to drink it.”

Cassie pushed the cup away. “It’s useless. I’m going to die. The poison is working too quickly.” As if to make her point, a coughing fit rose in her throat. She heaved in breaths between coughs, certain she was about to inhale her last. Wishing her last breath would come.

“Three days is not quickly. Whatever he gave you was designed to make you suffer.” Her mom used a rag to wipe away the foam that collected on the corner of her mouth. Tears filled her eyes as she brushed the hair away from her sticky forehead. “You can’t die, Cassie. You’re all I have left in this world.” She choked down a sob and wiped beneath her eyes. “And my visions…you know they’re never wrong. Are you sure he wasn’t a vampire?”

Cassie sighed, too weak to lie to her mother again. Her mom’s visions were usually vague and could be interpreted in many ways. And while a vampire didn’t poison her, if she hadn’t gone to meet Branan that night, she never would have gone to the bar with Adam. But she didn’t dare tell her mom about her betrayal. Cassie was her only daughter. The light of her life, as she liked to say. She couldn’t bear to hurt her even more.

She smoothed her hands over the thin, lavender blanket and patted her mother’s hand. “I’m a simple witch. Why would a vampire want to kill me?”

Her mom scoffed. “You’re so much more than that, sweetheart. You’re a McClain witch—one of the most powerful in the world.”

“Not for long. Soon I’ll be one less witch New Orleans has to worry about.”

“Don’t say that.”

Tears collected in her own eyes, but she willed them not to fall. Upsetting her mother would only make her more insistent that she drink the damn magic tea.

How could she have been so stupid to accept a drink from a stranger? To go with him to the bar in the first place? She knew better. If a man offers to buy you a drink, be sure you see the bartender pour it. Men slip all kinds of rape drugs into women’s drinks these days. That’s what her mother told her nearly every time she went out. Apparently, date rape was the least of her worries.

She’d tried her best to keep her magic hidden; only casting spells in the safety of their apartment. For twenty-two years, she’d lived like a normal human. She’d tried to, anyway. Even her closest human friends didn’t know her secret. But Adam found out. And all it took was one person knowing.

Her mom pulled the blanket up to her chin and pressed a cool rag to her forehead. “It’s not your fault. If an attractive man offered me a drink, I probably would’ve accepted it too.”

If her mother only knew what she’d done. The reason the attractive man knew she was a witch to begin with. If she’d never gone to that stupid club in the first place, none of this would have happened.

“I’ll do some more casting to try and heal you. I’ll scour through my books to find the right herbs to cure you. I won’t stop until you’re better.”

“Mom—” The coughing returned, so violent it felt like she’d expel a lung.

“No more talking. You need rest.” Her mom’s brow furrowed as she stared above Cassie’s head. She narrowed her gaze, and thoughts seemed to swim behind her glassy irises. Then, her eyes widened, and a tight smile stretched her lips. “I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before. Cassie, Lord Sinclair will help you. Oh, thank the goddess!”

She stared at her mother in disbelief, the weak beating of her heart quickening. Did she know about her trips to the club? Did she know about the evening Cassie spent wrapped in his arms? And was she okay with it?

Icy tendrils of fear crept up her spine, spiraling to the base of her skull where the unexpected warmth of possibility cascaded down to her chest, filling her heart with hope. Branan’s deep red aura reflected his immense power. But did he have the power to heal? Would he even bother fixing her body when he’d already shredded her heart?

She swallowed hard, cringing as her throat seemed to melt together and then rip apart. “I thought you didn’t approve of vampires.”

“Well, I’d certainly rather you hold onto your humanity, but it’s better than losing you.”

Cassie blinked. “Wait. You want to turn me into a vampire?”

“It would cure you.”

“But, I’d have to drink blood.”

“You wouldn’t die.”

Cassie tried to sit up, but her head spun. She eased back down onto the pillow and coughed. “Yeah, like never. And, Lord Sinclair? He doesn’t owe us a favor. You know there’d be a price. Anyone who still calls himself a Lord in the twenty-first century…He’s not the type of guy who just does things out of the goodness of his heart.” If he even had a heart. After the way he led her on, she wasn’t sure she wanted to see his face again. Death sounded better than being in a vampire’s debt. Especially Branan’s.

But she’d seen so much kindness in his eyes. She didn’t mistake that.

Her mother stood and paced the small room. Her muscles tensed, and she turned to face Cassie. “I would pay any price to save my daughter’s life.”

Silence stuffed the room like cotton. The only sound Cassie heard was her pulse pounding in her ears. Her chest tightened. She wanted to rush to her mother, to take her in her arms and tell her they’d find another way. That she’d live without the help of the vampire. But her muscles betrayed her. Her weakness seemed to increase with each breath.

“Any price, Mom? Even trading your life for mine? I won’t let you do that.”

Her mother returned to her position on the edge of the bed. “It won’t come to that. Lord Sinclair has a kind heart, no matter how hard he tries to hide it.”

“How do you know that?”

Her mom smiled and smoothed the blankets. “I peeked into his soul.”

Cassie’s eyes widened. Her mother’s ability to see into someone’s soul was invasive and extremely taxing on her powers. It could take hours to recover from a glimpse into the depths. She’d seen the effects first-hand.

Her mom shrugged. “Just a quick peek, a long time ago. I wanted to see what our ruthless leader was made of.”

“And?”

“He’s kind and just, but extremely sad and untrusting of others.” She rested a hand on Cassie’s leg. “He will help you. Don’t you see? I misinterpreted my vision. I saw death surrounding you. I saw vampires. But the vampire isn’t the one to kill you; he’ll be the one to save you.”


CHAPTER FOUR

Branan paced the receiving room of his eighteenth-century Garden District mansion. The hardwood floor creaked under his black leather boots with each step. He drew back the heavy green curtain covering the window and gazed out toward the cemetery across the street.

Rows of massive stone and stucco tombs jutted from the ground, giving the graveyard a city-like appearance. Enormous oak trees loomed around the border, their branches reaching like skeletal arms, fingers outstretched toward the necropolis.

He should’ve been in a tomb five hundred years ago.

He’d gladly take death over the pain ripping through his chest now. But he’d made his decision. To deny destiny was a risk he’d chosen to take. Cassie had moved on, and witches couldn’t be trusted. Especially not with his heart.

So, why had he granted an audience to this witch? Perhaps it was the desperation in her voice when she’d called. Maybe he was intrigued at the mystery of what her request might be. She didn’t say much on the phone, just that it was a life or death matter.

His love for Cassie had softened him. After five hundred years, he could let go of his grudge against witches, couldn’t he? After all, this wasn’t the witch who’d betrayed him. No, she was already dead when he’d arrived to kill her. But he’d taken the blame.

That was the point his reputation of being a hard-assed vampire, hell bent on retribution and order, had solidified. But he wasn’t a cold-blooded killer. A control freak, maybe. He did like to keep his realm in order. Though, deep down, he knew he didn’t have nearly as much control over his lands as he should.

Chaos reigned now that the humans had decided to take it upon themselves to rid the world of magic. Most of the supernatural beings had gone into hiding long ago, so he wasn’t surprised to receive a call from a witch he never knew existed. Just like he never knew Cassie existed. And they both would’ve been better off had they never met.

He smiled wryly and let the curtain fall across the window. Humans and magical creatures had coexisted peacefully at one point, not too long ago. But Branan knew, even then, it wouldn’t last. It didn’t take long for the humans to get scared and go on a killing spree. He sighed and resumed his pacing. How long had they been back in hiding? Eighty years? It was hard to keep track of time.

The doorbell chimed, snapping him from his thoughts. He exhaled a curse—at the witch for bothering him or himself for allowing her in—and opened the door. The woman straightened to her full height and bowed her head.

“Lord Sinclair. I’m Jocelyn McClain. I spoke with you earlier?” Though her posture suggested confidence, the crack in her voice revealed the same desperation he’d detected on the phone.

“Of course. Please, come in.” He stepped to the side to allow the woman entrance, but she didn’t move.

“It’s my daughter, sir. She’s in the car. Can you help me bring her in?” Jocelyn never broke eye contact, seemingly unashamed of her request for help.

His chest tightened at the mention of a child. “Of course.” He followed the mother to her Toyota Camry and paused as she opened the passenger door. His breath caught at the sight of the…woman. She was definitely not a child. Long, black hair clung with sticky sweat to her ashen face. Dark circles rimmed her sunken eyes, and dried foam dotted the corners of her gray-white lips.

Branan swallowed hard, his heart wrenching at the sight of his sweet witch. Though she sat on death’s doorstep, there was no mistaking her.

“Cassie.” Her name came out in a whisper so quiet, Jocelyn didn’t hear.

Her lids fluttered open, and she gazed up at him with hypnotic, dark eyes. Deep pools of midnight beckoned him, dragging him down into their depths.

“Hello, Lord Sinclair.” A coughing fit followed her greeting—a fit so forceful, he thought she might die right there.

He cringed at her use of his formal title, when only days ago his first name had danced from her lips.

What had he done?

“Oh, Cassie. I told you not to talk.” Jocelyn made a fuss over her daughter, stroking her forehead and patting her hand. All Branan could do was stare. Comprehension eluded him as death danced about her aura, threatening to pull her under at any minute. Could this be his Cassie, who had radiated warmth and light beneath the stars only four days prior?

Jocelyn touched his arm. “Will you help me get her in, out of the humidity?”

He had to tear his gaze away from his love. “Right. Yes. She can’t walk?”

“She can barely sit up.” Jocelyn moved away from her daughter, and he slipped his arms beneath her, lifting her frail body with ease. Her skin burned with fever, and a fire stirred within his heart. Despite her sickly pallor, she was still the most beautiful creature he’d ever seen. Something deep in his soul flared to life the instant he touched her.

He carried her inside and thought better of laying her on the couch. “She’ll be more comfortable in a bed.”

Jocelyn followed closely behind as he strode through the receiving room, turned down the hall, and settled Cassie on the mattress in a guest bedroom. He’d never played nursemaid to anyone, but an intense desire to help her overwhelmed him.

“Can I get you anything?” He fisted his hands at his sides, silently berating himself for asking her to speak again.

“Water, please.”


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