Sometimes you just need to stay alive to fight another day.
Six months ago Ari moved in with the vampire prince Andreas. They defied the vampire elders in Europe, killed their enforcer, and have waited for retaliation that never came.
On a trip to Italy, Andreas is captured by the vampire rulers, the notorious O-Seven, and taken in chains to their stronghold in Germany. Ari goes after him, even though it’s against the orders of her Magic Council. She is fired for her actions, losing her special Guardian powers at a time she needs them most.
But the vampire rulers are not through with her or with those who attempt to help her. They launch attacks in Europe and at home in Riverdale. Ari is forced to fight them on several fronts, and victory grows increasingly uncertain.
Her last chance to rescue Andreas is a daring plan that places her in the hands of the O-Seven and relies on untested witch magic, the final hope for their survival.
Chapter OneShe ran onto State Street and slid to a halt. Silence squatted over the Vampire Strip. The Second Chance Saloon, vampire biker bar and thriving center of depravity, stood at the end of the street with its front doors propped open on the mild September night, but the normal raucous music that should be spilling into the streets was missing. Neon signs added a garish note, tinting the clothes and faces in the crowded parking lot with shades of orange and green. She started toward the bar at a brisk pace. The crowd seemed to be waiting for something, voices hushed. One by one they turned to watch her approach.Not an ordinary disturbance then. Her magic stirred. Arianna Calin, supernatural cop for Riverdale’s Magic Council, slowed to a walk and circled past the two Riverdale Police Department cruisers that blocked the end of the street and warned the curious away with their blinking red lights. At the edge of the crowd, she held her badge overhead and threaded her way through, listening to the voices for some hint of what lay ahead.“Let her through.”“It’s the Guardian,” a man called. “Let her handle this mess.”Handle what mess? That bad, huh? Her witch senses sent trickles of energy across the back of her neck. She stepped inside the front doors of the all-too-familiar establishment and turned to the right, entering a large room unnaturally bright under police spotlights.Holy crap! The heavy scent of blood and death choked her senses, her vision blurred. She threw out a hand as if in defense, stopped, and shut down much of her sensory system. The room gradually came back into focus.Straight ahead, Lt. Ryan Foster, her human partner on joint investigations, and two of his fellow officers talked with two male elves. From the wary stance of the officers and the blood splatters on the elves’ clothing, she assumed they were suspects.Ryan spotted her and tipped his head in acknowledgment. She returned the nod but didn’t approach him yet.Ari slowly ran her gaze over the room, taking in and absorbing each detail. She would review the photos later, but this first scan always set up the rest of the investigation for her. Tumbled tables and chairs, spilled drinks, and broken glass covered the floor—along with what remained of four werejaveys. She did a double take. What were javeys doing so far north, hundreds of miles out of their normal habitat? Not noted for their cleanliness, the part-human, part-javelina creatures often smelled bad, but at least two of them had been dismembered, making the sight and odor more like a slaughterhouse than a bar.Ari swallowed twice, forcing down bile. Could this horrific scene have been prevented? How had these creatures slipped into town?On a normal night she would have been on evening patrol by now, and probably in this nightlife area known as the Vampire Strip. If so, she would have intervened and stopped this fight before it turned fatal. But she’d been running late, doing a favor for the vampires—actually for Andreas, the vampire prince who was her boyfriend—by talking with an abandoned newborn. The young woman, only a week into her vampire transformation, was having a tough time with the adjustment and the visit had taken longer than Ari anticipated. When police dispatch notified her of a disturbance at the biker bar, she had left on the run, but the extra seven blocks took precious time. The fight would have been short and decisive. Elves might look delicate, but they could pick up a sumo wrestler and throw him across the room when aroused. Even evil-tempered javeys were no match.Ari grabbed a set of plastic booties from one of the cops, slipped them over her shoes, and walked around the room to get a better look at the crime scene. Avoiding the larger blood pools was easy, but the widespread splatters made some contamination inevitable. The floor was sticky with beer and blood and body parts she didn’t want to think about.The first javey victim was missing an arm, and his snout was ripped open. The second had lost parts of several limbs, including both hoofed back legs, and the last two bodies had fewer, but more devastating injuries: one decapitated, its hog-like head coming to rest next to the wall; the other had been slammed backward onto a table leg that now protruded from his abdomen.She’d seen enough. She pulled off the booties and tossed them into a bag held by a young officer. He looked mid-twenties, about her age, but his face was pale and pasty. Rookie.She approached Ryan, shot a brief glance at the elves, but spoke to her human partner. “What started it?”“The elves say six of these guys,” Ryan frowned and waved a hand at the four bodies, “attacked them over whose order would be delivered first. The two survivors took off before our patrol car arrived, so I haven’t heard their version.”His tone was noncommittal, but the story sounded about right to her. Almost anything could send a javey’s temper into the stratosphere.Ryan pulled her off to one side. “Can we talk a moment…in private?” He turned his body to shield their conversation from the others and lowered his voice to a whisper. “What kind of creatures are they?”“Javeys. Werejavelinas. But they’re only pseudo-weres. They can’t shift back and forth.”“Haveys? Spelled with an H?” He was taking notes. “They don’t look like any werecreatures I’ve ever seen. Were they trying to shift at the time of death?”“Javey with a J. They’re stuck that way. Javeys are created by mutants.” Ari gestured at the nearest victim, the one missing his head. “This guy was a regular human once, until he was attacked and infected by a mutant javelina. The defective lycanthropy left him in this half-human, half creature state the first time his body tried to shift. He’s been stuck ever since. It’s what the mutation does.”“Talk about bad luck. Why haven’t I seen anyone like this before?”She shrugged. “They’re not from around here. Texas and the Southwest mostly.” She glanced at the bodies again and grimaced. “True javelinas may look and act like feral hogs, but werejaveys are ten times more bad-tempered. I’d have chased them out of town, if I’d heard they were here.”Why hadn’t she’d heard? No one needed to die over a fit of bad temper. The elves were law-abiding and would have quit fighting if someone had restrained the javeys. It was a plus that the elves had survived, but it didn’t square the score in her mind. Javeys or not, four Otherworld creatures had died on her watch.Ari and Ryan returned to the waiting elves, and she listened while they gave her the details. The fight had played out as she’d suspected: the javeys, who’d boasted they were part of a south Texas gang, had been the aggressors, forcing the fight on the elves. A waitress had been bringing the elves their drinks, when the javeys accosted her, and failing to convince her to deliver the tray to their table instead, one of the javeys had lost his temper and knocked the tray out of her hands. The elves stepped between the young woman and her tormenters, the six javeys started swinging, and the fight was on.“So what happened to the other two?”“Back in Texas by now, I’d guess,” one of the elves said. “They were hurt but moving fast when I last saw them. What happens to us? Are we under arrest?”It was her call since they were Otherworlders, but Ari looked at Ryan for his input.“Witnesses tell the same story. They confirmed the dead guys struck the first blow.”She returned her attention to the elves. “It sounds like you did what you had to. As long as you’ve given the officers your name and address, you’re free to leave.” She watched them slip out the back door. “It really wasn’t their fault. I should have stopped the fight.”“How? You weren’t here.”“That’s the problem.”