Eternal Fires (MF)

Etopia Press

Heat Rating: Sensual
Word Count: 86,019
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It started with the murder of a stranger. Then the crows appeared...

Ari and Andreas know the O-Seven will never leave them alone. Ari is carrying Andreas's mortal child, but the vampire elders are convinced the child will be the first vampire baby and are out to posses it. Or kill it. Either way, Ari and Andreas will do anything to keep her unborn child safe, even if it means Ari has to go into hiding and leave Andreas exposed to the O-Seven alone.

But then the O-Seven discover the Mahmo magic that can turn an elder into a winged killer, and each time Ari runs, they find her again. The only way to protect their child's future is to defeat the O-Seven, once and for all. And to do that, Ari will have to face the elders head-on in their castle stronghold deep in Germany's Black Forest...

Eternal Fires (MF)
0 Ratings (0.0)

Eternal Fires (MF)

Etopia Press

Heat Rating: Sensual
Word Count: 86,019
0 Ratings (0.0)
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Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

Nothing like starting the day in a cold morgue room. Arianna Calin shook off her primal reaction to her surroundings—stark, white walls, sterile steel counters, drainable floors, and the heavy scent of chemicals that didn’t quite mask the odors of death—and studied the body on the table. The victim looked like a small human, a preteen child, but the magical aura that hovered around her even after death told a different story. The cherub features with the soft wisps of silver-blonde hair curling across her cheeks belonged to a nymph. She’d been cruelly assaulted, leaving gashes and puncture marks across her face and body. She seemed vaguely familiar, but it was probably just the hair, a color common to her race.Ari curbed a flash of sadness. It wasn’t the worst she’d seen in her years as a supernatural cop for Riverdale’s Magic Council, but death never got easy. “What killed her?”Dr. Onway paused his inspection of the victim’s left arm and pushed his glasses to the bridge of his nose. “Hard to say. She’s been struck or stabbed multiple times with an oddly shaped instrument, but none of the visible wounds killed her.”“These look like claw marks.” Ari narrowed her eyes and pointed to three deep linear gouges on the victim’s upper arm. She leaned forward for a closer look, looping her blonde hair behind her ears to keep it out of the way.Her human partner, Ryan Foster from the local PD, peered over her shoulder. “An animal did this? Is this postmortem damage by scavengers?”“No, Lieutenant, there was extensive bleeding.” Onway pursed his lips and probed the wounds with his fingers. “Perimortem, I’d say. Part of the killer’s fatal attack. They weren’t made by mammal claws or human fingernails. Reptilian, maybe. Like a large lizard?”He gave a deep sigh, straightened, and pulled off his gloves with a snap. “Or something I’ve never heard of. The puncture under the arm might be the mark of a fourth toe.” He made a claw of his hand with his thumb demonstrating the fourth toe position. “I’ve contacted the Magic Lab’s forensics people to take over. Perhaps they can give you a better cause of death. I don’t think my medical degree is going to explain this.”Ari cocked her head and frowned. There weren’t any large predator lizards in the Midwest, supernatural or otherwise. Certainly nothing that would have attacked this childlike being or left such deep puncture marks.A thread of unease shot down her spine. The only creatures with three toes forward and one underneath that came readily to mind were the wereraptors who worked for the O-Seven, the brutal vampire elders who’d tried to kill her more than once. Ari dismissed her concerns as quickly as they’d risen. At seven or eight feet tall, the raptors were too big to have caused this damage. Besides, the pre-pterosaur creatures rarely left the O-Seven’s stronghold in Germany, and they certainly couldn’t wander around the American countryside without drawing attention.She pulled her gaze from the autopsy table and looked at Ryan. “Do we know who she is?”“No idea.” He shook his head and glanced at Onway.The doctor shrugged.Ryan continued. “No purse or bag. Her pockets were empty. She was found by a passing motorist in a cornfield shortly after dawn. County police got the call at 6:15, secured the scene, and brought her in for autopsy. As soon as Doc identified her as an Otherworlder, County was only too happy to transfer jurisdiction and get this one off their books.” He grimaced. “I haven’t been to the scene, but they thought it was a dump site.”“Pretty brutal for a robbery or carjacking. No sign of her car?” Ari’s voice held an edge.He gave her a sharp look. “We’re still looking but nothing so far. You know something you’re not saying?”“No, just uneasy. When something weird happens, I worry that the elders are back.” She shot a last glance at the figure on the autopsy table before nodding to Onway, climbing the stairs, and stepping out of the building into the mid-August heat. The humidity wrapped around her like a wet blanket and dampened her forehead. She waited for Ryan to join her. “I’d feel better if we had a cause of death or a motive. Let’s take a look at the cornfield and see if we can track down the original crime scene. Maybe we’ll get lucky and find a driver’s license or something useful to identify her.”Ryan pulled out his car keys. “Why can’t Otherworlders have fingerprints like everyone else?” he grumbled. “Or bad teeth that would produce dental records?”“That would make your job too easy. But cheer up. She’s probably local, and a boyfriend or husband or other relative is wondering where she is. I’ll give Kyra a call with the bad news.”She was eager to talk with her wood nymph friend anyway. Kyra was a nanny, and Ari and Andreas would be needing one in the near future. She touched the baby bump under her loose T-shirt. At seven months she was definitely showing to anyone who looked, but she would pop out so much in the coming weeks that their poorly concealed secret would soon become common knowledge.A smile flitted across her lips when she felt the baby kick against her hand. Active today. She’d been marveling at the infant’s movement for nearly three months. Her friends claimed the kicking had started a little early, but then she’d expected their child to be exceptional. How could any child of Andreas, the local vampire prince and a warlock, be less than perfect? Her smile broadened. She could hardly wait.“What are you grinning at? As if I didn’t know.” The corners of Ryan’s blue eyes crinkled with indulgent humor. “I’m still amazed that I’m going to be a godfather to a little witch or warlock. When are you going to tell us which it is?”“Don’t blame me. Andreas wants the surprise of waiting until delivery, and I’m determined that he’ll be the first to know. You’ll have to be patient like everyone else.”“But you know.”“Yep.” She gave him a smug look and opened the door of his cruiser. “It’s my secret a little longer. I kind of like it that way.”He made a disparaging sound in his throat. “This is your last week on active duty, isn’t it? I like Tom Bodie, but it won’t be the same without you.”“He’ll do fine. You didn’t think he was so bad last year when I was gone for weeks.” But Ari was pleased Ryan preferred her. They’d worked closely for more than three years and become good friends. “It’ll only be a few months until I’m back, and I’ll still be around, just not doing fieldwork.” Her hand dropped protectively to her stomach. “This is the only child Andreas and I will have, and we can’t risk anything going wrong.”In fact, the child was a miracle. Even master vampires were sterile, but seven months ago she had time-traveled to 1813 searching for a lost talisman and met Andreas two years before he became a vampire. They’d fallen in love all over again, and she’d become pregnant. The infant carried all their dreams for the future. She’d gladly sit behind a desk for the next two months if that’s what it took to ensure a safe delivery.Ari continued to smile as Ryan drove toward the outskirts of Riverdale. She was looking forward to seeing her sexy, alpha male vampire in the role of doting father.Ten minutes later Ari and Ryan stood in the middle of a mid-season cornfield. The green stalks brushed against her jeans at knee height as she sent tendrils of witch magic out to explore the surrounding environment, seeking a scent or a trail of energy that might tell her what had happened. There was a trace of…something. But what?Shading her eyes with one hand, she studied the field and looked back toward the highway. Except for the drag marks and the broken stalks where the body had lain, the only disturbances were the tracks of the motorist and a separate path made by rescue workers. The surrounding rows of corn were pristine. The drag marks probably covered the killer’s incoming footprints, but how had he left?She checked the ground more closely, then widened her search, still finding nothing to mark an exit. The path to the site of the body dump was already starting to fade, as injured plants struggled to recover. If the vultures hadn’t pointed the way, the motorist wouldn’t have noticed anything wrong, and a less curious person would have driven by without investigating. The killer wouldn’t have anticipated such an early find. He must have counted on weeks passing before the body’s discovery.“What do we know about the witness?”“He’s a night shift worker at Hope Hospital, just driving home. No wants, warrants, or priors. Served in the medical corps in Afghanistan.”A soldier. So he knew about death and was used to taking action. That’s why he checked out the carrion birds. Still, no one was above suspicion. “Does his story check?”“County officers verified he’d been at work all night, got off twenty minutes before he called it in.”Ryan took a small notebook from the back pocket of his jeans. As an Otherworld crimes’ detective usually out in the field, he was allowed to dress for comfort rather than to impress the general public. “He told the officers he noticed the vultures circling and pulled over to look around. That’s when he spotted the single set of drag marks. He made a point of telling the officers he didn’t step on the existing tracks or touch anything. As soon as he saw the body, he called it in.”Ryan snapped the book closed. “That’s it. We can talk with him again, but his account seems straightforward.”Ari nodded. “He’s observant, good on the details.” A skill he’d learned in places like Afghanistan where lives depended on paying attention to the environment.She crouched next to the cornstalks crushed by the body. Vultures, huh? She flashed back to the victim’s injuries. Lots of gouges. Couldn’t those be from birds? But Doc had said the damage occurred before death, not after. Birds don’t kill people. Besides, the wounds were too large and too deep to be inflicted by the typical vulture weighing four or five pounds at best.What kind of creature then? She glanced around uneasily.“Something wrong?” Ryan asked.She shook her head, rather amused by Ryan’s constant attention to her moods at this type of scene. He’d come to rely on the magic as much as she did.“Just thinking,” she said. But it was more than that. From the moment she’d stepped out of Ryan’s police cruiser, she’d had a creepy feeling she couldn’t put her finger on. Maybe it was only the lingering trace of death rapidly being cleaned by busy insects and dispersed by the breeze that tugged at her hair. She brushed a loose strand out of her eyes. “I see nothing helpful here. We need the original crime scene, which is out of my sensory range.”“Then it’s at least a mile from here, right?”“Yep. I’d zero in on a death scene any closer.”He took the police radio off his belt and notified the four officers searching roads and ditches to extend their range beyond a mile from the dump site. He frowned as he slipped the unit back on his belt clip. “So we’ve been looking along the wrong roads,” he grumbled, swiping at the sweat that had plastered his dark blond curls to his forehead. “Wasting time.”“Not completely. The killer might have tossed the weapon or something belonging to the victim.” She quirked a brow at him. “What’s the matter? Did you have something you’d rather be doing on a hot Sunday morning?”“Almost anything. But I’ve got all day. Mom’s planning a big barbeque for tonight but nothing until then. If we’re at a stopping point, I hope to be there. Her homemade barbeque sauce is to die for. Want to come? Isn’t Andreas away at some meeting?”“In Chicago. They’re working out the details of the new vampire alliance. How’d you know?”“Claris.” He turned away and started back toward the car.Ari gave him a quick look. Ryan didn’t usually worry about family barbeques when they were on a case. “Will she be there tonight?” she asked, catching up with him.“Who? Oh, Claris?” He acted just a little too casual. “I think Mom said something about inviting her.”Uh-huh. So that was why he wanted to go. She’d noticed her best friend’s name coming up in his conversation more frequently over the past few weeks. She frowned and puckered her lips. Ryan had spent a lot of time keeping Claris’s spirits up since her fiancé, Brando, was killed nine months ago. Had Ryan fallen for her? They’d always been fond of each other, but Claris didn’t seem ready to move on. Ari doubted if her friend was even aware of his feelings.But Ari didn’t bring up any of that. “I’d love to go. I wasn’t looking forward to the evening alone.” She used to enjoy her solitude before Andreas. Since they’d married last December and especially since the pregnancy, they’d been almost inseparable, wanting to share every moment they could. These few months had been the most peaceful time they’d had in the last three years, free of harassment by the O-Seven elders. Ari and Andreas had taken full advantage of the interlude, knowing it wasn’t likely to last.“Great. Mom will love to see you. Now, let’s get busy and find our crime scene.”

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