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Chapter One

 

I stared at a collection of coiled tentacles that appeared to be crawling across my worktable. They extended their hungry suckers, as if to draw me into their ravenous grip. Just then, I had to remind myself they weren’t attached to some misshapen sea monster, but were, in fact, nothing more than the tangled wires and connection lines of Henner Tayir’s latest technological marvel.

“Just a few more tweaks…” He bent over an ancient, secondhand TV and fiddled with the countless wires sprouting from the molded plastic body. The thing clunked and wheezed as though it were in pain.

“Will it detect vampires?” I asked as I crossed my arms and looked outside the window at the darkening day—the sun was already on its descent and the weather was threatening rain which was nothing new in Haven Hollow. Sometimes it seemed like this little town was located in the center of a cloud.

Henner cocked his head to one side with his screwdriver still poised in mid-air. “What makes you think the intruder was a vampire?”

I shrugged the question away, mainly because I didn’t want to get into the nitty-gritty of the answer—that one of the most notorious vampire families on the West Coast was out to get me. Rupert, their top dog, had given Lorcan, Haven Hollow’s favorite vampire dentist, and me one month to dissolve the blood bond between us. And Rupert wasn’t someone you wanted to mess with—he was powerful and then some.

Now that ominous deadline loomed a mere ten days away—it felt like time was slipping through my fingers. Try as I might, I still hadn’t figured out how to perform Betanya Tayir’s magical spell—not that it would do me much good if I did perform it, anyway. Betanya’s formula hadn’t worked for her, either. But, I was convinced such was due to the fact that she’d disappeared  (or died) before she’d ever had the chance to perfect her recipe.

With only ten more days to break the bond, I felt the pressure more with every passing second of every passing minute of every passing hour. I expected vampires to leap out of nowhere and attack me any moment. But, Henner didn’t need to know all that. “I don’t necessarily think the intruder was a vampire. I’m just asking.”

As to the trespasser who had broken into my store two times in the last week? Yes, I thought the culprit could be a vampire, although I hoped such wasn’t the case.

 “This device will pick up humans, non-humans, otherwise known as cryptids, as well as animals and the dead, so I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t pick up an undead.” Henner gave me another strange look and went back to adjusting the machine. “Besides, Lorcan is the only vampire in Haven Hollow. If there was another one, we’d know about it.”

I didn’t answer. Maybe we’d know about it and maybe we wouldn’t. Vampires were sneaky sorts, so it wasn’t like they’d come knocking on every door, announcing their intention to break into my store.

Ever since Lorcan unwittingly turned me into a Blood Witch when he saved my life after I was involved in a car crash, the reasons kept mounting to hurry and dissolve the blood bond between us. There were just so many things wrong with my being a Blood Witch, aside from the fact that the vampires were out to change me fully and I had no plans on becoming fangy anytime soon.

Potentially equally bad was the fact that in transferring his blood to me (also known as giving me his ‘Kiss’) without fully turning me into a vampire, Lorcan was on his way to becoming bat-shit crazy. Well, he was becoming more out of his mind than usual, anyway. He was obsessed with me. And I mean… OBSESSED. Like stalkery, guy who never had a date before and owns one of those fake human sex dolls obsessed. Even though he was doing his best to control his impulses, he was still a danger to me and probably to himself.

“A vampire who wanted to harm you wouldn’t do what you say this intruder has been doing,” Henner reminded me in that intellectual way of his that usually did nothing but get on my nerves. Today, however, I needed him—something I reminded my nerves every five minutes.

“And how is that?”

He shrugged. “What exactly did the intruder do besides leave you a few cryptic messages? He didn’t steal anything or rifle the petty cash or break anything, right?”

“Right,” I answered on a sigh as I walked over to the light switch on the wall and flicked it upward. Instantly, all the crystal chandeliers glowed with a yellow light, illuminating the whole room. “Whoever it was scratched something into the floor, but I couldn’t make out what it said or if it was meant to say anything at all. What’s bothering me more is the fact that this person was able to get in in the first place.”

“Run that by me again?” Henner didn’t look up from the abomination before him and he was one of those people who focused so intently on whatever it was he was doing, that most times he couldn’t pay attention to anything else.

“Well, there was no sign of forced entry and the wards on all the doors and windows shouldn’t have allowed anyone in. So, unless the person literally phased through the walls, I have no clue how he or she managed it.”

“Or them.”

I nodded. “Or them. Even if they’d phased through the walls, my hexes, charms, and potions should have repelled them.”

“Hmm, that sounds like quite the perplexing quandary.”

Breathing in deeply for a count of three, I exhaled just as deeply, hoping some of the anxiety within me would escape. But no such luck. “You’re telling me.”

I turned to face the rest of the store, as if hoping a clue would leap out at me and start dancing the dance of ‘hey, you missed this!’. But no clues did anything of the sort and the store just stared back at me blankly.

“I’ve checked and rechecked all the wards a dozen times—I’ve replaced the locks on the windows and the front door. I’ve added extra wards and protection potions from Poppy, but no matter what I do, the intruder keeps getting past my defenses.” I shook my head. “I just don’t understand how.

Henner looked up at me and nodded. From his expression, it seemed like he was only half paying attention because he was busily trying in vain to arrange the many wires into some semblance of order.

“Guess we can rule out some snot-nosed kid breaking in at night based on a friend’s dare.”

“Yeah,” I answered on a snicker.

“But… that would also rule out a vampire—all those magical wards you have in place, I mean.”

I let out a long-suffering sigh. “I know,” I finally admitted. “I guess I’ve known that for days—that the intruder couldn’t be a vampire.”

“So, why did you think it was a vampire in the first place?”

“I’m not sure,” I lied.

Henner bent over the TV again and spoke over his shoulder. “Maybe you’ve got vampires on the brain... I mean, owing to everything that’s going on between Lorcan and you.”

“Right.”

I had vampires on the brain in more ways than one. After Rupert gave me his ultimatum, I’d loaded my store with more anti-vampire hexes than you could shake a stick (or stake) at. And I’d strengthened the wards—now no one with any inclination towards harming either me or my store would be able to enter. No one, that is, except for whoever was getting past them.

Henner banged the side of his contraption three times with his palm, as if that was the final step. And for all I knew, maybe it was.

“Whoever is pulling this crap can’t mean me any ill-will,” I went on, more to myself than to him. “And that’s the strangest part.”

“How’s that possible?”

“The wards are protection wards—anyone who harbors any thoughts of harm towards me isn’t able to enter. Sometimes they’ve even worked on humans who weren’t in especially good moods—they’d try to enter the store and they’d bop right back out again, never even able to make it over the threshold.”

“Hmm.”

 “If a vampire came calling, my hexes would blast them into a bloody smear on the wall.”

Just then, the doorbell jangled, announcing I had a visitor. Henner and I turned to see Lorcan strolling through the front door, as if he owned the place. He looked every ounce the suave and self-impressed dandy he was. Upon seeing him, my heart did this weird flutter and I started feeling warm all over. It was a by-product, I believed, of the blood bond between us—recently I’d been feeling more… amorous than I usually did towards the infuriating man.

Henner laughed again as he looked over at me. “What was that you were just saying about a vampire getting blasted into a bloody smear if he entered your store?”

“Lorcan has an open invitation,” I explained, shaking my head. “The wards and hexes don’t apply to him.” And then something occurred to me as I narrowed my eyes at the vampire dentist.

“My dear Ms. Witch and her groveling human, so nice to see you both,” Lorcan addressed us in his faint Irish accent. He appeared unusually tall today, dressed in his dark pants and his white dentist overcoat. His usually longish blond hair was pulled back at the nape of his neck and his emerald eyes glistened with boyish mischief. Lorcan was centuries-old but appeared to be in his early forties, owing to his vampiric inability to age. He had a handsome, chiseled face with high cheekbones and a strong, Roman nose—he sort of reminded me of Paul Newman, only far more irritating.

“Hey, Lorcan,” Henner answered with a slight wave, not bothering to break protocol where the box was concerned.

I glared at Lorcan. “If you’ve been taking advantage of your ability to enter this store by breaking in and leaving me bizarre messages etched into my floors, I’m going to stake you.”

Lorcan looked at me and that smirk of his widened, until he resembled the Cheshire Cat come to life. “Alas, you have found me out.”

“Lorcan?” I demanded, frowning, as I crossed my arms against my chest and glared at him. I wasn’t in the mood for his jokes—I had to get to the bottom of who was breaking in and why.

Lorcan held up his hands in mock surrender, causing his scent to dance through the air and hit me full-force. It was a blend of spice, sandalwood, and something else I couldn’t put my finger on. Very masculine and very… ahem, sexy. In fact, I had to dampen down my sudden yearning to throw my arms around his neck and taste his lips.

Good Goddess, this blood bond is going to cause the death of me.

Potentially, quite literally.

“I must admit, my dear, I do have an escalating interest in your undergarments, but I’m afraid said interest is only reserved for those you, yourself, are currently wearing, as opposed to those you sell in your store.”

“Gross,” Henner muttered.

Of course, I hadn’t really thought the intruder was Lorcan, but I figured it was good to still check. Concerning Lorcan, he was a constant surprise. And not necessarily in a good way.

I strolled over to the counter to meet Lorcan and sighed as I looked up at him and he faced me expectantly. I’d asked him to come in but hadn’t told him why.

“Dare I ask why you called me over? You said it was important.”

“It is.” Then I turned around and led him over to the changing rooms. “Over here,” I started before he interrupted.

“I must admit I have never given in to my carnal appetites in a fitting room, though such has always taken top priority on my list of proposed locations.” Then he looked over at Henner. “And with an audience, no less!”

“Gross!” Henner muttered.

“Will you stop it? You know that’s not what I…”

Lorcan grinned like an undead fool. “Come now, Wandellmelia, no need to play coy with me.”

I swatted his shoulder. “Cut it out. I asked you to come over because I need your help… not your constant attempts at humor… which really aren’t very funny.”

“Oh, you cut me to the core, my dear.” Then he glanced down the line of my body and added in a lower voice… “And I should love to experience your core…”

“I’m still here, people!” Henner shouted from the other side of the store.

“Lorcan, I will hex you in your most favorite of places if you don’t quit it.”

He looked down at his crotch and then back up at me with a sigh. “Very well. Consider it quitted.”

I pointed to the floor. “Look.”