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Excerpt for A Fortune in Blood by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

A Fortune in Blood





A prequel to The Last Lullaby

Amy Sumida

Copyright © 2016 Amy Sumida

All rights reserved.




More Books by Amy Sumida


The Godhunter Series(in order)


Godhunter

Of Gods and Wolves

Oathbreaker

Marked by Death

Green Tea and Black Death

A Taste for Blood

The Tainted Web


Series Split:

These books can be read together or separately

Harvest of the Gods & A Fey Harvest

Into the Void & Out of the Darkness


Perchance to Die

Tracing Thunder

Light as a Feather

Rain or Monkeyshine

Blood Bound

Eye of Re

My Soul to Take

As the Crow Flies

Cry Werewolf

Pride Before a Fall

Monsoons and Monsters

Blessed Death

In the Nyx of Time

Let Sleeping Demons Lie

The Lion, the Witch, and the Werewolf


Beyond the Godhunter

A Darker Element

Out of the Blue


The Twilight Court Series

Fairy-Struck

Pixie-Led

Raven-Mocking

Here there be Dragons

Witchbane

Elf-Shot

Fairy-Rings and Dragon Kings

Black-Market Magic

Etched in Stone

Complete Series—


The Spellsinger Series

The Last Lullaby

Symphony of Sirens

A Harmony of Hearts

Primeval Prelude

Ballad of Blood

A Deadly Duet

Macabre Melody

Aria of the Gods


Erotica

An Unseelie Understanding


Fairy Tales

Happily Harem After Vol. 1

Including:

The Four Clever Brothers

Wild Wonderland

Pan's Promise

The Little Glass Slipper

Beauty and the Beasts


Happily Harem After Vol. 2

Including:

White as Snow

Awakened Beauty

Twisted

Codename: Goldilocks


Historical Romance

Enchantress




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And dive further into the worlds of the Godhunter, Twilight Court, and Spellsinger, at Amy's website:

AmySumida.com

Chapter One





The best day of my life was the day it ended.

I was walking home with my maid, Ellen. I'd gone to take my father some dinner and spend some time with him, as I often did. My father was a sea captain. He imported goods for the merchants of London to sell. Father was very successful, and in the way of successful men, he'd made a few enemies. Those enemies wanted to hurt him. Not destroy him completely, just weaken him enough to be malleable.

They tried to use me to do it.

I suppose I should be thankful that they didn't rape and torture me, that they gave me a swift death. And I am thankful to those murderers in a way. I'm grateful that they hastened my path. I am not grateful for their intentions though, and what they did to my father. My death was the best day of my life, but it wasn't the greatest for him. After he heard of my death—my body was never found—Father sank into a deep depression which distracted him from his business and nearly proved fatal. Without a blooder's help, he may not have lived. Oh, but you don't even know what a blooder is yet. Perhaps it's best to allow you to discover it as I did. So, I'll go back and start from the beginning, just a few weeks before I died.

The year was 1657. I was walking down Beech Street when I met him; the man who changed everything. He was blond in a way that I'd never seen before. His hair was nearly the same color as the locket my father had given me for my sixteenth birthday. It gleamed like polished gold, much too beautiful to be natural. But I knew of no cosmetic that could enhance hair to look like that. Then there were his eyes; flawless emeralds that seemed to catch the light of the street lamps within their translucent depths. Either that or they glowed on their own, which isn't possible. Those eyes had been startling in the late evening shadows, enough to cause me to stare.

He was dressed as a nobleman, though his clothing lacked the excessive frills most wealthy men preferred. His golden hair smoothed back and tied with a black, silk ribbon, and a ruby pinned into his cravat. That was all the adornment he tolerated. No golden embroidery on his jacket or shoes, no rings upon his fingers, and no wig, though the last wasn't too shocking. What was shocking was the direct manner in which he approached me.

“Please”—he stepped in front of me, blocking my path—“I must know your name.”

I gaped at him, taking in the dramatic angles of his face, too brutish for polite society. It needed powder or rouge, something to make it softer so it wouldn't upset a lady's delicate sensibilities. Even his hands were too masculine, practically barbaric. He looked like a working man in a rich man's costume. And that was what made my heart race. The contradiction he posed.

But I was a lady. Perhaps not one from his level of society, but a lady nonetheless, and I wouldn't be mistreated by some lordling who thought he could use his money and social standing to intimidate me. Or impress me, for that matter. I was not so easily moved.

Get thee from me this instant, you bull's pizzle!” I snapped and pushed past him.

Ellen giggled as we hurried down the street, and looked over her shoulder several times. “He's still staring after us,” she announced. “You done good, milady. Your father would be proud.”

Father would indeed be proud of me putting some rich man in his place, and I was proud of myself for not giving in to the urge to speak sweetly to the dashing man. But an ache started to grow in my belly, and the strangest panic hit me. Panic that I might never see the arrogant contradiction-of-a-man again. And that would be a tragedy.

In a way, my instincts were spot on. Tragedy indeed found me; but it wasn't at the hands of my handsome admirer.



Chapter Two





I searched the alleys we passed for my relentless suitor but he wasn't there. He'd been following me ever since the night we'd met, yet I never saw him during the day. His schedule must have been a full one, lots of time spent counting his gold or whatever it was that rich men did. I was so distracted by my search for him, that I didn't notice the men who were actually lurking in one of the shadowy alleys. I saw them far too late, when they were already upon me. One of them bumped into me and a sharp pain lanced through my chest. I looked down in shock and terror to see a bloodstain spreading over my pale yellow dress.

Nothing personal, Miss Selwyn,” one of the bastards had the nerve to say.

A crying shame,” the other one shook his head.

Ellen screamed as the men ran off, taking the knife with them. I clutched at my ribs, trying to staunch the flow of my blood as passerby reeled back in horror. A few people approached me but they were too late. Everyone was too late... except for him. He arrived just in time.

Coldness spread through me, and I fell onto the cobbled street. The glow of the streetlamps spread out behind the faces pressing in above me, turning them all into looming shadows. I whimpered but couldn't draw enough breath to speak. Then he was there, pushing back the others, his hair like a beacon in the deepening dark. His beautiful face appeared directly above mine.

Don't worry, Fortune,” he whispered. “I have you now.”

And then I was in his arms. The noise of the crowd faded as he rushed away with me. Ellen, my poor maid, screeched at him to stop. She even attempted to give pursuit, but he was too fast for her. Within minutes, we were in another part of the city altogether. Then we were inside the sanctuary of his home, and he had me laid across his lap as he stretched out on a carpet before a cold fireplace. I remember how I wished it had been lit to give me at least a little warmth before I died.

My eyes trailed up to his, and his were glowing. There was no mistaking it now. They burned like embers in his somber face. Then he pulled away his lacy cravat, baring his neck. He lifted a knife and made a little cut along the pale column of his throat. I watched the blood flow sluggishly from the wound. Then he lifted me in his arms and pressed my mouth against his throat. I flinched.

Drink it, Fortune,” he growled. “You've already lost too much blood for me to take any from you. I cannot give you the solace of my bite. You must drink on your own.”

I tried to pull away.

Do it if you wish to live!”

I did wish to live and that clarified my thoughts. This whole situation was so strange. My admirer taking me from the street, his glowing eyes, the blood at his neck. Strange enough to make that little voice inside my head scream for action. I suddenly knew that this was an offer few received, and I had a very limited time to accept.

I opened my mouth and drank.

He sighed as if my actions brought him pleasure, and then he clutched me tighter. At first, the blood had no taste. I was too close to death to notice anything but the cold of my body. Then the salt of life overwhelmed me, and I nearly gagged. But I'd ingested enough of it for the stuff to reach my belly and as soon as it did, a fire burst inside me. It raged through my veins, jerking my body into rigidity. I cried out, throwing my head back as pleasure and pain roared together. Then a flavor—one unlike anything I'd ever tasted—burst across my tongue. Hunger overtook me, and I struck at him like a viper, latching back onto the wound in his neck with my teeth.

I don't know how long I drank, but he had to stop me eventually. He was far stronger than I, and it was not difficult for him to restrain me. I remember fighting him, clawing at him, trying to get back to that sweet nectar he had offered me. He had smiled gently as he held me down, and then his eyes flashed. Something about them hypnotized me and my body relaxed. I was satisfied and so very tired.

Rest now, Sweet Fortune,” he whispered.

Who are you?” I was finally able to speak.

I am Banning Dalca,” he said, “and I am yours.”



Chapter Three





I woke up late the next night. My body tingled, every little sensation shooting up in intensity. I sighed as I rubbed my legs over silk sheets and quivered from the pleasure of it. I could hear people speaking in the room next door. Or was is the house next door? The voices rose and faded with my concentration. I frowned and breathed in deeply.

Blood,” my voice was a rush of air pushed out of me as I sat up straight in the magnificent bed.

You're awake.” He stood in the doorway smiling. Him. Banning Dalca. That was his name. “How do you feel?”

I . . .” I blinked as I remembered the night before. “What have you done to me?”

I've made you a monster,” he said simply and sadly. “I'm sorry, Fortune. I wouldn't have done it if you hadn't been about to die.”

What does that mean?” I narrowed my eyes at him, in particular, on his neck. There was no wound. Perhaps it had been a hallucination. Perhaps . . .

I gave you my blood and made you immortal.” He strode into the room and took a seat on the bed beside me.

I pulled away, eyes wide.

Humans call our kind 'vampires.'” He pretended not to notice my fear. “But the correct name for us is 'blooder.' We are a supernatural race; one of many races.”

Wait.” I held up a hand. “Now, you say that not only am I a monster, other monsters exist?”

Yes,” Banning said grimly. “We are the only type of supernatural being who can be made. We are transformed humans; unlike the others, who are born as they are.”

Others like what? What kinds of monsters exist?”

Never mind them for now.” He reached a hand towards me, and I pulled further back against the headboard. “Fortune, you are safe with me, I promise you. I've saved you from death. Why would I do that only to hurt you now?”

Then I can go home?” I lifted a brow.

Banning sighed.

That's what I thought.” I clenched my hands into fists. “I will not make it easy for you.”

Make what easy?”

My rape,” I said steadily, though my heart was racing.

Fortune, I am not going to rape you,” Banning huffed. “I love you.”

You don't even know me.”

I have gotten to know you these past weeks.” He grinned.

I know you've followed me.” I rolled my eyes. “Just because you spied on me doesn't mean you know me.”

I spied very closely.” He wasn't at all insulted. “Closer than you know. And I did get to know you, Fortune. I know all about you. I've done more than watch; I've listened. I know you, and I love what I've come to know.”

You're a madman,” I gasped.

No, I'm an immortal,” he said firmly. “And now, so are you. We have forever for you to get to know me in return. I can be patient and very persistent, but I will not force you. Not ever.”

Only hold me prisoner.” I grimaced.

Fortune, you can't return to your family now,” he said gently. “They will not understand the differences that immortality brings. You are no longer able to go into sunlight. In fact, you will sleep through the day. You must also drink the blood of humans to survive. You must learn how to do this secretly, so as not to draw attention to yourself or our kind. There is much you need to learn. You will not be held by human laws anymore, but you will be held accountable to blooder law.”

Blooder law?” I found myself leaning towards him.

We must obey certain laws or our race could be threatened.” He nodded. “Humans may be the weaker race, but they are the larger one. They also tend to kill things which scare them. We must hide our natures.”

You've made me into a slave,” I ground out.

Quite the opposite. I've given you eternal freedom,” he corrected me. “All of the limits human society imposed upon you are gone. You are no longer just a woman, Fortune. You are a blooder. You can be a part of human society or scorn it but either way, it is powerless over you. I've given you the freedom to live exactly as you wish.”

So, you've made me into a man.” I smirked.



Chapter Four





I adjusted to my new life fairly fast but letting go of my old one wasn't as easy. I often found my feet leading me in the direction of my father's ship. Then Banning would tighten his hold on my arm and steer me away with a sympathetic look. I had wanted revenge on the men who killed me but even that, Banning handled. He killed them the very next night, after my murder, while I still lay sleeping. Banning woke me by trailing a blood-dipped finger across my lips. At least I had the taste of revenge to savor, if not the action of it.

Banning introduced me to his Gura, a group of vampires who formed a community which existed beneath London's human society. In fact, the paranormal community as a whole was called the Beneath. The London Gura (there were several guras all over the world) was led by a woman named Cosmina. She had vivid red hair and the lush body of an expensive harlot. Cosmina welcomed me with fake warmth then sent me snide looks when she knew Banning wasn't watching. I knew those looks; she was jealous. Cosmina coveted Banning. The irony was, I wasn't Banning's lover.

Banning was giving me time to adjust to being a blooder. He'd made his feelings for me clear, but he also knew I couldn't possibly return them yet. It was simply too soon. Except it wasn't. I did have feelings for Banning. I just wasn't sure if they were strong enough to sacrifice my virginity to. Yes, he'd said that society held no sway over me any longer. But that didn't change what I believed. And I believed that my first sexual experience should be special. Even if I never married and lived this blooder life to the fullest, I still wanted my first time to be with someone I loved. And though I was attracted to Banning—even a little infatuated—I didn't love him. Not yet.

Not until the night he saved my father's life.

We'd been striding down the streets of London, and I had once more led us to the docks. Banning was about to steer us away when I heard shouting. The commotion was coming from my father's ship. I rushed forward and through a cabin window, I saw my father being attacked. It seemed that murdering me hadn't cowed my father enough. They were resorting to more permanent solutions.

No, my love.” Banning held me back. “You're not strong enough yet.”

That's my father!”

I know,” he said gently then kissed my cheek. “All will be well.”

Then Banning was gone. I blinked and he was suddenly running aboard my father's ship. My mouth fell open as I watched him burst into my father's cabin, kill the four criminals, and then dash away without a single word to my confused father. Father was still staring around him in dismay when Banning appeared beside me.

Thank you,” I whispered, hardly believing that the threat had been handled so quickly.

Was this what I could become? Could I be as strong as Banning one day? As fast? The gift he'd given me had finally been revealed fully, and I was overwhelmed by his generosity. He may consider us to be monsters, but I knew the truth; we were gods. Banning had made me a goddess. I would walk the world forever, without fear. Where would I be without Banning? Cold and rotting in my grave, that's where. Instead, he handed me freedom, and I still held back my affection.

Anything or anyone who comes against you or those you love, comes against me as well!” Banning declared. “I will destroy your enemies, Fortune. Our enemies. I will fill your mouth with their blood.”

That was when I noticed the blood on his lips. The moonlight caught the dark gleam of it just moments before he kissed me. We stood there, delighting in blood and passion, right before my father's ship. Father had regained his senses enough to raise an alarm, and his crew started shouting and gathering to search the area. Still, Banning took his time with me. Nothing mattered more to him than that moment between us. And that's when I fell in love with Banning Dalca. How could I not?



Chapter Five





All it took was a single look. Banning pulled away from our kiss, saw the way I was staring at him, and he knew. He swept me up in his arms and rushed back to his luxurious London home with me. The journey there was a blur; all I could concentrate on was Banning's face. I watched the play of shadows over the striking angles of his jaw. The way moonlight caught in his eyes and shifted them from moss to emerald and back again. There was still a drop of blood at the corner of his lips. I leaned forward and licked it away daintily. Banning shuddered then picked up his pace.

I began undressing Banning as soon as he closed the front door behind us. We left a trail of clothing on the stairs. Banning tore away my bodice as if it were paper, and then I stood before him in only lace and silk. Wisps of material which concealed very little. His eyes slid over me slowly then his hands replaced his stare. I sucked in a breath as I was touched intimately for the very first time.

And Banning knew how to touch a woman.

Light flutters and then firm handfuls of flesh. Kneading, squeezing, rubbing. Banning's mouth descended, tongue laving and sharp teeth grazing my sensitive skin. I moaned, he growled, and then there were other delicious sounds. Slick sounds and soughing sounds. Rapid heartbeats along with rapid breaths. When he lowered his face between my legs, his eyes began to glow green. I'll remember that look forever. And the sensation of his mouth upon me. I screamed his name to heaven and vowed to love him for eternity.

And I knew my vow was true. Even if death came for me once again, it would not separate us. I would find a way to return to him. My soul was branded by Banning; bound to his. Our love would last an eternity.







Keep reading for a sneak peek into the first book in the Spellsinger Series:

The Last Lullaby





Chapter One





I hunched my shoulders in an attempt to lift my coat collar a little higher around my ears. The weather in Seattle was dismal in December. Hell, in my opinion it was dismal during most times of the year. I longed for the kinder climate of my home, where even the rain was warm. But I couldn't go back to Hawaii yet, I still hadn't met with my client, and the payday for this job promised to be worth a little discomfort.

I finally made it to the top of the ridiculously long driveway, my eyes scanning the area surreptitiously from within the cashmere confines of my coat. I'd had the taxi drop me off a little ways down the street so I could do a bit of surveillance on my approach. Even in the gray, grim weather, there were at least eight guards spaced around the front of the house. One of them moved to intercept me, and I acted as if I hadn't seen him.

“Hold on, Miss. This is private property.” The overly muscled man in combat pants held a gloved palm out to me in the traditional “stop” gesture. I saw the gun on his hip, but he hadn't drawn it. That was mistake number one. I was in the driveway already, which made me a threat.

Bad guard, no biscuit.

“I'm expected.” I could have announced myself right then, but I wanted to test Adam MacLaine's security team.

That was my client, MacLaine–or he would be soon. If this guy was an accurate representation of MacLaine's security, it was a wonder the man wasn't dead already.

“Do we have a guest arriving today?” Mr. Combat Pants asked a little microphone clipped to his shirt.

He had to open his leather jacket to access the mic, giving me a flash of the knife he had secured to an inner pocket. Damn this guy was dumb. He even turned away from me to talk into his comm. Like he couldn't conceive of a woman being a threat. I could have killed him three times already. I suppose I should have berated him for his bad habits, but I hated doing other people's jobs. And it was definitely someone else's job to whip this guy into shape. The mere thought exhausted me. I do not suffer fools.

“Name?”

“What?” I asked, completely distracted by his ineptitude.

And the spaghetti stain on his shirt. It was nearly invisible from a distance, but now that I was up close and personal, I could clearly see the crusty red mark on the black fabric. So, a fool and a slob. Definitely not the type of man I'd have chosen to protect me.

“What's your name, Miss?” the slob asked.

“Tanager,” I said, whispering to see if he would make the mistake of coming in closer to hear me.

“What was that?” He sure did. He leaned in close enough for me to stab him in the throat.

Of course I would never deign to dirty my hands in such a manner. My mother raised me better than that. I killed like a lady.

“The name is Tanager,” I said more clearly. “And I'm cold.”

Whoever was on the other side of the microphone heard me, and must have barked something into the muscle-head's ear. He flinched, then straightened.

“Sorry, Ms. Tanager,” he stammered and gestured to the looming house. “My team wasn't notified. Go on in. Someone will meet you at the door.”

“Thank you, Mr. . . ?” I drew it out into a question.

“Uh, you can call me Jake, Ms. Tanager,” he stammered.

“Thank you, Jake.” I walked off, striding quickly to the beckoning warmth of the open front door.

A woman stood within the golden light of the doorway, her features as stern as her severe bun, and her eyes razor sharp. She nodded to me, and shut the door behind me after I entered.

“May I take your coat, Ms Tanager?”

“Yes, thank you.” I slid out of it and sighed.

I had worn my usual getup to greet clients–pencil skirt and modest blouse. But instead of heels, I'd chosen knee-high boots. It was just too cold outside to go without something covering my calves. The woman looked over my prim outfit, and nodded in approval. With my long, dark curls pinned up, I looked very professional.

“I am Mrs. Chadwick,” the woman introduced herself as she hung up my coat. “Mr. MacLaine is waiting for you in his office. I'll take you there now.”

I followed Mrs. Chadwick down a corridor much too wide to be called a hallway. It was lined with expensive artwork, and the sounds of our footsteps were muffled by a silk carpet runner that looked as if it had taken years to weave. It was nice, but I'd seen all of this before. Done better, to tell the truth. My clients were the wealthiest people in the world. They had to be in order to afford me.

“Mr. MacLaine, she's here,” Mrs. Chadwick said as she walked through an open door.

“Thank God,” a man's voice groaned.

It was a pleasant voice, and it matched the office I entered. Not nearly as pretentious as the rest of the house, this room was more personal. It held framed family photos, an old chair that must have come from a time when MacLaine wasn't so wealthy, a wide desk made for function instead of form, and several sitting areas; one before the desk, one before a picture window to the right of the desk, and one in front of a modest fireplace. That's where MacLaine had been, at the fireplace enjoying its comfort instead of working at his desk. In the crowd I normally contracted with, that said a lot.

Adam MacLaine was around forty, with a trim build that suggested he didn't spend all of his time making money. His oak-brown hair was lightly sprinkled with white at the temples, and his skin had a healthy tan, but not the sunbed tan so prevalent in Seattle. His skin had seen real sun. Blue eyes crinkled as he smiled in relief, and came to meet me halfway across the room, hand extended.

“Thank you for coming, Ms Tanager.” He shook my hand firmly. “Could you close the door on your way out, Mrs. Chadwick?”

“Of course, sir.” She smiled a little, showing a hint of affection for her employer. That said a lot too.

“Would you like something to drink?” MacLaine offered as his hand swept to a sideboard where several bottles waited. Not decanters, mind you, he had straight up liquor bottles out on display. The social elite would be shocked.

“No, thank you.”

“All right then.” He looked unnerved by my refusal. “Would you care to have a seat?”

“Yes.” I slid into the chair across from his, and he relaxed a little, coming over to join me.

“I don't know how–” he started to stammer, but I held up a hand.

“Mr. MacLaine, who wants you dead?” I cut through the pussyfooting.

“I believe it's a man named Jonah Malone.” He sighed, and sank back into his chair. “His company was failing, and I bought it at a . . . well, for a song, really.”

“Uh-huh.” I chuckled at the song reference.

With the exception of his ironic wording, my clients's stories were always so similar. Someone got the better end of a business deal. Or they were cheating on their spouse. Or cheating on their mistress. Or cheating on their taxes. No, that last one doesn't require my intervention. Not usually. But the issue was often about someone screwing someone else in some form or another.

“I assume you've compiled a dossier on him?”

“Oh, yes,” MacLaine fumbled with something on the floor beside him, and then handed me a manila folder.

“What exactly do you want me to do to Mr. Malone?” This was the line I asked all of my clients. I needed to be very clear with them. A lot of them assumed I was purely an assassin, but that wasn't the case. I thought of myself more as a fixer. I could kill when necessary, but death was the most extreme result I offered.

“I . . .” He gaped at me. “What are my options?”

Just as I'd thought. Cer hadn't told him. My old friend was having a laugh at my expense right about now. MacLaine had doubtless been referred to me by one of his friends, but he'd had to go through my friend, Cerberus Skylos, before he could arrange a meeting with me. Cerberus made sure the client was someone I'd want to work with before he passed on the info. And he usually did me the courtesy of explaining who I was, or at least, what I could do, to my potential customers.

“Do you know what I am, Mr. MacLaine?” I asked gently.

“An assassin,” he whispered, as if he might be overheard.

“No,” I shook my head. “I have killed people, but that's not who I am. Or what I am.”

“Uh.” He started to look confused. “Are you a vampire?”

“Good guess,” I chuckled, “but no.”

The mere fact that I was sitting there, facing him, meant that Adam MacLaine knew about the supernatural world that existed in the shadows of the human one. “The Beneath.”– or just plain “Beneath.” is what we, the denizens of said community, called it. So, MacLaine knew of it, but it was very doubtful that he knew the scope of the situation. He hadn't even known the correct term for a vampire–blooder. The wrong titles give away ignorance in a heartbeat.

Humans who were aware of the Beneath usually knew about the forerunners of paranormal society, the obvious races; loups (don't call them werewolves, they hate that), other shapeshifters, and blooders. Sometimes they knew about fairies, but the Shining Ones were really good at covering their tracks, so that was rare. What was even more rare was when humans were acquainted with the other races; gods, witches, demons, dragons, angels, and so forth. Things that went bump in the night, and did a fair amount of rabble rousing during the day as well. We just knew how to hide our supernatural gifts better than the shifters and blooders.

“A friend of mine told me about you. He said you were the best. That you never failed,” MacLaine's face started to fall into the sharp lines that always preceded my revelation of the Beneath. It was like they could sense I was about to tell them something that would change their entire life. Or at least their ability to sleep through the night.

“That's true,” I agreed. “So you know about vampires. What else do you know?”

“What else?” He scowled. “The shapeshifters, of course.”

“And that's it?”

“There's more?” MacLaine's eyes widened.

“Oh yes,” I smirked. “There's quite a bit more. But that's not for me to reveal. I only have the right to tell you about my own kind. Now, do you know what a siren is, Mr. MacLaine?”

“Like in the Odyssey?”

“Yes, exactly,” I smiled, relieved that I wouldn't have to explain everything. “My mother's people are considered to be a class of god. They were minor deities, more like an entourage to the more powerful gods, but still considered a divine race.”

“Are you seriously telling me you're descended from gods?” He started to stand.

I quickly sang the lyrics from Hollow Point Heroes' “Sit Down Shut Up.”

I had a whole arsenal of quick-draw lyrics just like this one, ready to be shot out like a bullet when necessary. I didn't even need the song to say exactly what I wanted to accomplish. All that I needed was one word to work with–sit, dance, die. You know, the usual. And then I could visualize, and direct the magic from there. This particular lyric just happened to work really well. And you'd be surprised how often I employed it.

MacLaine froze, his eyes going wide with horror as his body disobeyed him, and plopped back into the chair. He leaned forward onto his forearms, and regarded me intently. Giving me his full attention, just as I'd commanded.

“Good.” I pushed down the power that rose whenever I began to sing. “Now, don't look at me like that. You're perfectly safe. I simply needed to demonstrate what I could do before you wrote me off as insane. I put no permanence into the spell so the effects will wear off momentarily.”

“What did you just do to me?” Adam strained to push his words past the weakening magic.

“I'm getting to that,” I smiled. It wasn't often that I got a chance to talk about my heritage. “As I was saying, my ancestors were minor deities, companions of the goddess, Persephone. You do know who Persephone is?”

“Yes.” He sighed deeply as the effects of my spell wore off. “I didn't think she was real, but yeah, I'm familiar with her myths.”

“Oh, she's very real.” I laughed to think of what Persephone's reaction to his disbelief would have been.

She just couldn't accept that people didn't believe in the gods anymore. I told her she was in denial, and she told me there were several rivers in the Underworld, but the Nile was not one of them. The Greek goddess has a silly sense of humor.

“When Hades did his little abduction routine, Persephone's mother, Demeter, enlisted the aid of my family to find her daughter,” I said. “She gave them wings, and bade them to search the world for Persephone.”

“I've never heard that part of the story.” He was relaxing more and more now that it was apparent that I wasn't going to attack him. “They never found her, I imagine.”

“No, Persephone wasn't in the world. She was with Hades, in his domain. So my ancestors failed,” I confirmed, “and Demeter cursed them for it. They were turned into sirens–women who sing eternally to their missing mistress, begging for her to return home.”

“I thought the sirens were mermaids who lured men to their deaths.”

“They're closer to birds than mermaids, but they do lure men to their deaths,” I said. “Their song is so beautiful, few can resist its pull, but it's also tragic. And tragedy can only create more tragedy.”

“Are you saying that you're a siren?” MacLaine cocked his head at me, fascinated, when really, he should have been afraid.

“No, only part,” I shook my head. “The other part of me is witch.”

“What? Like a Wiccan?”

I burst into laughter, and he scowled at me.

“No, Mr. MacLaine,” I got my humor under control. “Real witches are nothing like those tree-hugging, circle dancers. They're a separate race entirely, grisly and powerful. People you should hope to never encounter. My mother lured one of them to her, but he was strong enough to withstand the pull of death in her voice. In fact, he decided he quite liked her, and her music. He married her.”

“You're the child of a warlock and a siren?” MacLaine's voice rose in shock.

“The word 'warlock' means liar. Oathbreaker, from the Saxon waerloga. Male witches are still called witches.”

“Oh.”

“Yes.”

“So you're the daughter of a siren and a witch?”

“Yes.”

“Oh. Um.” He chewed at his lower lip a bit. “What does that mean exactly? What does that make you?”

“It makes me rare, Mr. MacLaine,” I smiled slowly. “Very rare.”

“And you can sing people to death?”

“I can do much more than that,” I decided to put him out of his misery. “My kind, though rare, have been born before. We are called spellsingers. We can transform songs into enchantment, bring lyrics to life.”

“Like how you made me sit down,” he whispered.

“And shut up, yes,” I laughed. “There are a lot of races living among humans. Spellsingers are only one variety, though we are, admittedly, one of the most dangerous.”

“Other races?” MacLaine looked as if he couldn't take much more, so I took pity on him once more.

“Don't worry about that right now,” I waved a hand. “They aren't the ones who want you dead.”

“Jonah,” MacLaine growled. “I can't believe he's taken it this far.”

“Mr. MacLaine,” I said carefully, “my kind have toppled kingdoms, burned cities, changed the history of the world. I can do anything to Jonah Malone that you wish... for the right price.”

“So, from conqueror to mercenary, eh?” MacLaine chuckled.

“I have no desire to destroy monarchies or watch Rome burn–that was my Grand Aunt Adelaide's thing,” I rolled my eyes.

“Wait– the burning of Rome, where Nero supposedly fiddled . . .” He exhaled roughly. “A relative of yours did that?”

“Nero didn't own a fiddle,” I grimaced. “That instrument wasn't invented till much later. He played a cithara.”

“A what?”

“It looks kind of like a lute . . . never mind that.” I was terrible with tangents once I got talking. “Nero wasn't in Rome at the time of the burning. He hired Adelaide, just as you're hiring me. Someone else played music for her while she set Rome ablaze.”

“Someone else . . . you can start fires with your song?”

“I told you,” I huffed. “I can do anything the words permit me to do. If I sing about fire, stuff burns. If I sing about water, someone drowns. Sometimes, a whole continent,” I shook my head. I wouldn't tell him about Uncle Eilener and Atlantis. He still got flack over that fiasco.

“So you're . . . wait. Nero hired someone to burn Rome?”

“Sure.” I shrugged. “Everyone hated him. After Rome burned, Nero came in with food and supplies, opening his own gardens to house people. He polished up his image while secretly deciding on a spot to build his new golden palace. It was good PR, and smart property management.”

“What a bastard,” MacLaine winced.

“Yeah, Aunt Adelaide regretted working with Nero. That's why I'm a bit more choosy with my clients,” I smirked. “But what do you want, Mr. MacLaine? What result would you like, concerning Jonah Malone?”

“I'd like for him to just back off,” he huffed. “But I don't see how . . .” He trailed off as he saw me smiling. “You can do that? Just make him change his mind? Permanently?”

“Absolutely,” I inclined my head. “And it's even cheaper than killing him. Only two and a half million.”

“Two and a half million?” MacLaine huffed. “That's more than I paid for the company.”

“Your acquaintances did warn you about my price, correct?”

“Yes, but,” he frowned, “that's when my life was in danger.”

“Your life is still in danger,” I stood. “I haven't agreed to take your case yet.”

He gaped at me for two seconds before standing, and offering me his hand again. “Two point five million is just fine, Ms. Tanager.”

“Wonderful, then we have an agreement.” I shook his hand, then started heading for the door. “And just a suggestion.” I stopped–halfway there–and looked back at him. “Fire your security team and get some professionals. Even without my magic, I could have killed them all within ten minutes. Especially the one called Jake.”

“You . . . what . . .” He blinked, and then recovered. “Alright. I'll do that today.”

“Smart man.” I smiled. Maybe he would live long enough to pay me. After all, he hadn't hired me to do his–

“How much for you to head my security?”

“No.” I shook my head. “I don't have time for that, and you don't have enough money to pay me.” His face fell. “However”–I pulled a card from the pocket of my skirt and handed it to him– “this man will help you.”

“Cerberus Security,” MacLaine read, and then looked up at me. “This is the guy I called to arrange our meeting.”

I nodded.

His eyes went wide, “Please tell me this isn't the same Cerberus who . . .”

“Guarded the Greek Underworld?” I laughed. “That was a giant dog, Mr. MacLaine. With three heads, I believe.”

“Oh.” He laughed, but it sounded strained. “Just a reference to the protection skills then?”

“Yes, exactly.” I smiled. Nope, I wouldn't tell him that he had guessed correctly.

Cerberus was actually a shapeshifting god with a fondness for practical jokes and dangerous women. I'm unsure which had cost him his job. I've known him for centuries, and he still hasn't told me. I know that Hades personally kicked his old, guard dog out of the Greek Underworld. Gave him the fiery boot. So now, Cerberus watched over humans. Humans who could pay him enough to soothe his wounded, puppy pride. Cer was damn good at what he did, but he was better at defense. He lacked the subtlety for a proper offense. If you told Cer to kill someone, he would probably just punch them in the face, really hard. I doubt he'd even stop to ask if the guy needed killing to begin with. So he kept to the security side of the business, and he called me for anything beyond that. Conversely, when my clients had a bunch of buffoons guarding them, I sent them to Cerberus.

“Ms. Tanager?” MacLaine stopped me again.

“Call me Elaria.” I smiled at him.

“That's lovely.” He grinned. “You must call me Adam then. I was just wondering . . . isn't a tanager a type of bird?”

“Why, yes, it is, Adam.” I was still smiling as I left. It was always nice when someone appreciated the subtleties.

Chapter Two





Jonah Malone was a gangster. Or a mobster. Probably a whole lot of words that ended in “er.” He had clawed his way to the top, and then discovered that he didn't actually have a head for business. All of his enterprises were failing, not just the one MacLaine had purchased, and Jonah was reverting to his old thug ways to handle the frustration.

It had been a simple thing to schedule an appointment to see him. I simply sang to the receptionist over the phone, and she found a spot for me that very day. Then I walked into Jonah Malone's office, closed the door, and sang to him. In five minutes, he had completely forgotten why he wanted to kill MacLaine. He also decided to sell off his remaining businesses, and get out while he could. Perhaps meditate more. I figured why not help improve the guy while I'm messing with his head?

I walked out feeling relaxed, and satisfied with a job well done. I had video taped Jonah's “change of heart”, and sent it to Cer, who would pass it along to MacLaine as confirmation. Within ten minutes, MacLaine had transferred my payment into my account. I could finally go home. Maybe I'd have a Mai Tai on the plane as a special treat. Hell, maybe I'd have two.

I was on the way to the airport, when Cerberus called.

“Got another one for you, El.” Cerberus didn't bother with a greeting.

“I'm tired and cold, Cer.” I sighed. “Give it to someone else. I'm going home.”

“No one else can handle this. It's bad.”

“How bad?”

“Blooder army bad.”

“That's pretty fucking bad.” I made a face at the phone.

“Yes.”

“Fuck.”

“Yes.”

“Whose army?” I asked.

“Some guy named Lincoln.” Cerberus's voice had a shrug in it.

“Like the president?”

“Yep.” He didn't offer anymore info.

“Where is this army going? What do they want? Who's the client?” I huffed. “You wanna give me anything without me pulling your fucking canines to get it?”

“Whoa, easy now,” Cer chuckled. “You're turning me on, Elaria, sweetheart. You wanna stop in Denver and make good on some of your promises? We can fly to Kansas together after your failed attempts at pulling my pearly whites.”

“Kansas!” I nearly screeched, causing my driver to look back at me in concern. “It's fine. I'm fine,” I told the driver. To Cer, I said, “I'm not going to Kansas. Who do you think I am? Dorothy?”

“You'd look cute in a little gingham dress,” he offered.

“The only way you'd get me in gingham is if you put on a collar and let me call you Toto,” I shot back.

“For you, baby? Anytime.”

“Great.” I rolled my eyes. “Now we have our next couple's costume planned.”

“No, really.” I could hear Cerberus smirk. “I look good in a collar.”

Cerberus and I had been playing this mating game since we met, back when I was sixteen, and we'd never concluded it. Part of me wanted to see if he was as good as he implied, but the other part of me knew our friendship was worth too much to risk it. Plus, we did business together, and everyone knows that saying about mixing business with Percocet. Or something like that.

“Look.” Cerberus got serious. “The guy is an old friend of mine. He's a blooder, a gheara, but he keeps his people in line, and they don't cause any trouble. He's one of the good ones.”

“I don't know about a blooder being good, but I'll believe the bit about him keeping his people in line.” I chuckled. “It's not like you hear a lot of vampire stories originating in Kansas. I didn't even know that Kansas had a Beneath. I thought they'd all flown away to Oz.”

“Banning's a tough one. He fought his way out of Europe, and now the fuckers are coming for him.” Cerberus didn't even acknowledge my jokes on the Beneath, aka the paranormal community. Which he knew irritated me. I put effort into my comedy; the least he could do was acknowledge it.

“Lincoln doesn't sound European,” I noted dryly.

“He's not.” Cer finally laughed. “He's a local hire. Mercenary.”

“Ah,” now that I could relate to. “So the guy is just doing a job. I can't hold that against him.”

“Yeah, but he contracts with the Falca all the time. Those elitist bastards wouldn't even bother to come to America, and kill Banning themselves,” Cer huffed. “Lincoln, what kind of stupid merc name is that?”

“So what do you want me to do?” I rolled my eyes, something I did a lot when I talked to Cer. He had a thing about names, especially professional ones, and was always going on about them. And the fact that I didn't have one.

“Ma'am? We're here,” the cabby called back to me.

“Hold on, Cer.” I stuffed my phone into my purse and pulled out some cash for the driver. I hurried out of the cab and over to a semi-secluded bench, then pulled out the phone again. “You there?”

“Why do you always shove your phone in your purse when you put me on hold?” Cerberus grumbled. “Just press the fucking hold button. You think I like listening to all your lady loot knocking against the mic?”

“I'm going to hang up,” I threatened.

“Fine,” he growled. “I can get you ten million for the job.”

I nearly dropped the phone. Ten million was twice my assassination fee. But then I thought about it. An assassination was one person, and Cerberus was asking me to kill . . . Wait, how many blooders was he asking me to kill?

“How big is this army?” I asked.

“I'm not sure,” he muttered.

“How big, Cer?”

“Big enough that a gheara blooder can't handle it with his entire gura backing him,” Cerberus snapped.

Blooder, as I mentioned before, is the correct appellation for a vampire. Kind of obvious, I know, but that's how those names usually came about. I mean look at my race, the spellsingers. Well– duh. But the word gheara was a little more interesting. It was Romanian for “fang,” and it indicated that this particular blooder was a big deal, akin to a king, maybe even bigger than that. There were usually hundreds of blooders in a single gura–that's the group of vampires who kiss the gheara's pale patootie. In fact, most people call them a kiss, but the blooders don't like that. Probably because of the ass-kissing thing. The polite term is gura, which is yet another Romanian word, meaning “mouth”. Then there was the Falca, which were the elite blooders who controlled everything in the blooder world. Falca meant “jaw” in Romanian. Yeah, I guess all the names were obvious; they just sounded less so in another language.

Anyway, if this guy had an entire gura looking after him, and Cerberus still couldn't help him without me, then there must be a whole lot of mercenary blooders coming after Cer's friend. Crowds were tough; it was much easier to weave a spell around a single mind. To alter the free will of thousands of people at once was nearly impossible. So I would probably have to go another route. I could sing a spell to affect the environment, and attack them physically, leaving them their free wills. Or I could enchant a few of them at a time, and force those to attack the others. Possibly even a combination of both. It would be exhausting, and probably take me multiple songs to complete. I wasn't even sure I could do it.

“Ten million per song,” I said to Cerberus.

“What?” Cer shouted into the phone.

“An assassination usually takes a few lines, half a song at most.” I explained my reasoning. I never arbitrarily picked a price. “And I charge five mil for a kill. So ten million for an entire song is a bargain, especially when you'll be wanting me to kill hundreds, possibly even thousands, of blooders. You know I'll need to sing more than one song to take out an army, so your friend can pay per song. If it gets too expensive, he can tell me to stop singing, and handle the survivors with his gura.”

“Gods damn you, Elaria,” Cerberus snarled. “You have the mind of Archimedes and the cold calculation of Hades himself.”

“Thank you,” I said primly. “But you know as well as I that you were trying to dick me over on this one, Cerberus, and I'm not happy about that.”

“He's a friend, El,” he sighed.

“Yeah, that's why I'm letting you slide,” I acknowledged.

You'd think immortals would end up having tons of friends, what with our extensive lifetimes. But it's actually the opposite. When you live as long as we do, you end up breaking most bonds. Family is usually the exception, but even they can drive you crazy enough to make you avoid them for a few decades. When you form a friendship that lasts, like mine and Cer's, it means something.

“So, are you meeting me in Kansas?” I finally asked him.

“You'll do it?” Cerberus asked with a measure of surprise.

“Of course I'll do it.” I rolled my eyes. Again. “Any friend of yours, and all that heroine bullshit.”

“Thanks, El,” he said sincerely.

“Of course,” I said just as sincerely. “Now, where in Kansas am I going?”

“Head to Lawrence,” Cer said. “Check into the Springhill Suites–it's one of the nicer hotels there. A Marriott.”

“Well, as long as I can stay at a Marriott,” I teased.

“I'll book a room for you,” he promised. “Under your usual alias.”

“Florence Nightingale,” I agreed. “Perfect.”

“And I'll come and get you after I arrive.”

“Alright,” I agreed. “See you in Kansas, Toto.”

“Bring your sexy red heels, Dorothy. I'll pack my collar.” Cer laughed as he hung up.

Chapter Three





Ah, Kansas. It was actually kind of pretty. Lawrence was a bustling town, but not quite as busy as Seattle, and not nearly as cold. It was November, so there was a nip in the air, but something about that breeze coming off the water in Seattle, made things so much colder there. Lawrence was more mellow with its chill, like Seattle's hippie sibling. Autumn had painted the city in its vibrant colors, and there was the smell of the season on the breeze–dry leaves and cooling earth. I breathed deeply of it as my cabby drove me out to the Springhill Suites.

As promised, I found a room already booked, and paid for, under my alias. I showed the surprised clerk my Florence Nightingale ID, and he handed me the keys with a twitching smile. I gave him the standard line: my folks had thought it was a great joke to name me Florence, what with our last name being Nightingale and all. The clerk let his lip twitching take the shape of a proper smile.

I went up to my room, threw my bag on the bed, and started digging around for a change of clothes. I needed a hot shower, and something more comfortable than my secretary get-up. I found a pair of jeans and a cotton blouse with bell sleeves. Perfect to relax in, and maybe go grab some dinner. Then I headed to the bathroom. When I came out, dressed but still rubbing at my damp hair, my phone was ringing. I snatched it up and answered.

“There's no time for me to meet you,” Cerberus said urgently. “Get over to the Crouching Lion Country Club now.” He rattled off an address.

“What?” I glanced out of my picture window at the night sky. It was still early; the stars hadn't even brightened yet.

“Now, Elaria!” Cerberus roared. “They're here!”

“Fine,” I snapped and disconnected him, muttering to myself, “Crouching Lion. What is it, a kung fu country club?”

I grabbed the essentials and rushed out of the room. When I got to the street, I paused, not really knowing what I was going to do. I didn't have time to call a cab, and I couldn't exactly show up at a blooder battle with an innocent human in tow. So I needed to grab some wheels of my own. I scanned the road, where a steady stream of cars drove by. I was considering running out to flag one down, when a red sports car pulled away from the pack and screeched up to the hotel. A smarmy guy got out of the car, and I smiled at him.

“Excuse me.” I ran over before the valet could reach him, and then leaned in close.

“Hello, pretty lady.” He leaned closer.

I began to sing, and his face went blank.

“Here.” He handed me his keys. “I think you need to borrow my car. I'll be at the bar when you get back.” Then he walked past the stunned valet, and into the hotel.

“Some people are so nice,” I gave the valet a sweet smile before I climbed in the . . . what the hell was it? Oh damn! A Ferrari. Talk about luck.

I squealed away from the hotel and hit the convenient GPS on the dash. Within minutes, I was pulling up the tree-lined, private road of the Crouching Lion Country Club. As I approached, the night brightened until finally, florescent flood-lights illuminated the outskirts of a blooder horde. They considerately stayed off the road, too intent on crossing the massive golf course to bother getting in my way. It was the straightest path to their goal.

A line of blooders stood before the main building of the country club. They posed in the aggressive manner employed by determined defenders throughout history. There were quite a lot of them, all armed despite the fact that they were blooders, and could have been considered weapons themselves. But I suppose when you faced an army of your own kind, your talents, no matter how impressive, negated themselves.

At the head of this fierce flock stood Cerberus, towering over Banning's gura. His massive muscles looked a little too He-Man next to the more mundane physiques of the previously human blooders. Cer's long, dark hair was pulled back in a no-nonsense ponytail, and his even darker eyes were narrowed on the oncoming army. Until he saw me.

Cerberus smiled, an altogether chilling thing to see since it showcased a set of prominent canines that were a little thicker than your average blooder's. He let out a triumphant howl, and the line of mercenaries paused to look around at what had excited the shifter god. When they saw only me, a woman in a sports car, they went back into attack mode. Obviously I wasn't a threat.

A guy at the center of the horde paused a little longer than the others, watching me carefully as I sped past him. I had my chosen playlist on pause, my iPod hooked up to the car's stereo, and I hit the button as I raced alongside the golf course. Music blared: Fall Out Boy's “My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark” going into its long intro. I shot up the drive before the club, and pulled the car to a screeching stop right in front of Cerberus.


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