September 19, 2017

Check Out the First Three Chapters of Queen of the Night Time World!

I'm so excited to share this with you!  Enjoy the preview of Queen of the Night Time World! You can ‘see the show' on September 27!

Queen of the Night Time World

Chapter One

The only light on Las Vegas Boulevard was a fire that didn’t belong to me. Like the entire city mourned Rainey’s disappearance. And they should. She took everything worth living for—sunshine, hope, and those glittery fishnet stockings—with her.

I’d been warned countless times this day would come. Mostly by Rainey herself, as well as the mysterious angel named Gabriel who whisked her away, tucking her into an untouchable place until her next assignment. It didn’t matter what they’d told me, or how many times they said it, I wasn’t prepared. I refused to believe I could actually lose her. I selfishly insisted she needed me as much as I needed her.

“Holly.” The voice of the vampire who’d taken everything else from me—my powers and my father—stopped me dead in my tracks.

Rachel.

She dressed for battle in black leather, with her hair pulled back into a ponytail. Flames flickered on her fully made up face. She wasn’t only surviving the darkness, she was making it her bitch. “I know where she is.”

I fell to my knees, gravel scraping my bare skin. My skimpy dress did me no favors, and neither would Rachel. I wouldn’t beg her for information. I got up, rubbing my skin to dislodge the rocks that had embedded themselves in my skin, not expecting for my fingers to come away bloody.

The embers from the fire glowed red, and for a moment, I pretended they belonged to me. I had no idea how long I’d gone without. Rachel licked her lips at the sight of my blood, and I wasn’t sure how long she’d gone without, either.

“Can I taste it?” she asked, her voice weak, gaze frozen on my bloody fingers.

It wasn’t like Rachel to ask for what she wanted; stealing was more her style. I cradled my hand against my chest. “Will you bring me to her?”

“It’s not that easy.” Typical Rachel, refusing to tell me how to solve a problem. “Gabriel’s put her to work, and it’s a battle she can’t afford to lose.”

“You sound just like her, trying to give me the prophecy in some sort of riddle. Look around you.” I held my bloody hand up to the dark sky. “This is the battle she lost. We need her light.”

“Actually, we need the darkness to be stronger than the light. Then we can all thrive.” Rachel took a step closer to me. She worked alone, as far as I could tell. It was the first time it had been only her and me. We were family, sort of. My father made her a vampire and then tossed her aside when she no longer suited his needs. Even though he didn’t waste a second of his time training her, she shared many of his most lurid desires: chaos, destruction, and most importantly—domination. She managed to put a woman’s touch on it. It was no big surprise she had a hand in his demise.

I wondered if she figured out how to succeed on her own yet or if screwing up ran in the family.

I always said without Rainey in my life, I’d be all dark side, all the time. I was only half-vampire, and it wasn’t enough to defeat Gabriel’s light. Rainey’s goodness completed me. She gave me the desire to wake up every morning to see the sunshine on her face. Now all I had was my half-sister with whom I shared a healthy dose of hatred and a city on the verge of implosion.

“Can I get her back?”

Rachel nodded. “We need to collect all the energy we can. It’s the only way we’ll be strong enough to get into her Realm.”

Realm?” When Rainey warned me Gabriel would give her a new assignment, I tried to prepare myself that it might not be in Las Vegas. But I never imagined he’d take her some place that I couldn’t get to her. The emptiness was too great for her to be nearby.

I offered my hand to Rachel. There was no good reason to waste the blood, especially in an energy shortage she helped create. I had no interest in seeing if a hungry Rachel could make things worse. And even less if helping her meant I might get Rainey back. No good deed went unnoticed and all that. She licked my skin clean, groaning and sighing like it was the best meal she had in far too long. I wouldn’t let it freak me out.

Her lipstick and my blood smeared her cheek. “The darkness isn’t everywhere,” she said. With the strength I gave her, the sarcasm was back. “But we’re trapped in it.”

**

I lay on the floor of my dressing room at Sin City Vampire Club. I hadn’t slept; I travelled. I had Rachel to thank for that snapshot into the future. Before she stole my powers from me, I always travelled back in time. It used to seem dangerous, but that was quaint now. As long as I left everything untouched, I could return to the present unscathed.

When my travelling powers returned, they weren’t the same. My most recent trips were to a Hellscape that was the future. But there were no postcards I could send as souvenirs, nothing to rely on but my own fuzzy recollection of the trip. And I almost always travelled alone.

The first few times I visited the future, it scared the shit out of me. That Las Vegas wasn’t one that would be put on any travel website. In the future, there was an energy shortage; vampires had sucked the city dry. But after my latest trip, I was tempted to send Rachel a thank you card. I usually didn’t understand premonitions until it was too late, and that was how I lost Rainey. I didn’t think I needed to fight, because I didn’t believe I’d actually lose her. Rachel gave me the blueprint for how to get her back.

I convinced myself my future travels were much like Rainey’s visions—since they hadn’t happened yet, they were simply prophecies. It was fair warning, and I had a chance to change it.

Even be so bold as to hope it wouldn’t happen.

Earlier that night, I’d fully ignited as part of my new show, The Afterlife. It was a partnership with Tristan Trevosier and the remaining members of Soul Divider. The show excited me for many reasons, and the most important one was that I got to call my own shots. No manager, no lawyer, and according to many, no common sense.

Whatever. I’d rather fail on my own terms than have someone set me up to do it and take ten percent of my paycheck.

And if Rainey was really gone, I failed. A guardian angel sent her to me, only to be taken away under one of two conditions—when the threat of darkness had been eradicated or I’d been deemed a lost cause. No big surprise that the latter won.

Darkness was everywhere. And I didn’t want this. Neither did Rainey. Gabriel’s plan didn’t allow for anyone’s opinion but his own. Not cool. If he expected her to serve, it was in his best interest for her to be happy. If she wasn’t, she’d walk. She proved that before, but it never felt permanent. Until now.

Vampires had no boundaries, and I’d been dragged on stage for an encore at the end of the show. My new coworkers didn’t understand that it took time for me to recover from igniting. The flames rose from a place deep inside, and my charred skin needed to heal. My defenses were weakest after I burned. The screams and the emotions of those who got too close still echoed in my head.

Rainey’s purse sat in front of my mirror. I dug inside, terrified, but encouraged that it was still here. She wouldn’t leave it behind if she had a choice. I pulled her phone out. Her screensaver was a picture of us, but our faces were covered by notifications.

Opening night meant there were dozens of messages. She set up her phone to get alerts every time I was mentioned online. Words like lukewarm and unexpected flashed as I scrolled through, looking for some clue of where the hell she was.

Bad reviews usually crushed me, but these I deserved. I’d been distracted. Every second I performed, Rainey got further away. I couldn’t waste any more time. I threw the strap of her purse over my shoulder, grabbed my bag, and headed out of the dressing room.

The hallways of Sin City Vampire Club were dark but for the auxiliary lights. After midnight was the sweet spot for vampires, when they fulfilled their deepest, darkest desires. Angels operated on a completely different schedule, as far as I knew, they kept their secrets tucked under their wing. A quick sweep of the dressing rooms confirmed I was the only performer left in the theater.

“Hey, doll.” Lennon practically gave me a heart attack when she rounded the corner. It wasn’t only that I was staring at my own face; the perfectly made up, pre-fire version of it—she looked exactly the same as she did before the show started. Only my whole world had changed in the span of a performance. No one else’s. “Didn’t expect to see you here. Are you coming to the party?” she asked.

Last time I went to an afterparty for The Afterlife, I’d been escorted out by security. Before Lennon mentioned it, tonight’s invite mysteriously got lost in the mail.

“Is Rainey there?” It was worth a shot.

Lennon squinted in confusion. “She’s not with you?”

“I have her purse, and…” Everything else was a conspiracy theory and a figment of my imagination. Lennon knew I could time travel, but she didn’t understand it. She was the only person who’d have the unbiased information I needed.

“We need to get out of here.” I grabbed her arm without taking the time to explain.

“What’s wrong?” Lennon didn’t try to break free. The click of our heels echoed in the empty hallway as we dashed out of the theater.

“The Mistress is weak, and she’s under attack.” We wouldn’t do her any good if we were destroyed, too.

 

Chapter Two

“What are you talking about?” Lennon stopped short, not letting go of me. I should’ve been annoyed. She was wasting time. But in the safe bubble of Sin City Vampire Club, everything was still speculation. Rainey could be anywhere. The moment we walked out that door, reality would hit. Rainey was gone.

I let go of Lennon’s arm and leaned against the wall. “Have you time travelled since we were together at the theater?”

“I’ve tried. But all I can do is this.” She appeared at the end of the hall and curved her hands around her mouth to amplify her voice. “I’ve been able to do it for a long time, but the power is getting stronger. I can move faster, but I’m not sure if I’m going forward or backward.”

Interesting. “Did you have to wait for me to catch up to you?”

She shrugged. “It’s hard to tell. It all happens so fast. I’m moving, but nothing else is.” Not bothering with magic again, she walked toward me. “What does this have to do with Rainey or Callie?”

“I…lost my power to travel when Rachel took my fire.” I hadn’t told anyone but Rainey that it was gone. Even though I felt a definite connection to Lennon, I wasn’t sure she felt the same way. If she did, she wasn’t comfortable with it. But I let myself trust her, because I had to. “Once I realized you had some travelling ability, I wanted to work with you, to study how you did it. So I could figure out what I was missing.”

“Did you?”

I nodded. “I always used to go to the past, but ever since we worked together, I’ve gone to the future. I was hoping you did, too, so we could compare notes.”

“I haven’t gone anywhere but the other side of the room.” Lennon was full of untapped potential. Rachel created her, then neglected her. It was a shame. But Rachel learned from the best. It was the same thing Cash, my father, did after he turned her.

“I can go everywhere,” I said. She believed my power because we shared it. “That’s where I first saw you.”

“Holly.” She sighed. Lennon had yet to accept that she was the reincarnation of my mother, and that she hadn’t first met Cash at Embrace, but as her patient at Bethlem Royal Hospital over two hundred years ago.

“Why is it so hard for you to believe you lived before? Think about it. You’re not the same person you were when you were human. That’s not the point. What I’m trying to say is, I had some control over where I went in the past.” I tried to sum it up without scaring the shit out of her. “But in the future, I don’t, because I can’t teleport myself to a specific place. It doesn’t exist yet. I keep going to a wasteland that looks a lot like Las Vegas and I’m not sure how far I’ve gone.”

“Maybe I can help you. I aim for a target,” she said. Which was the same thing I did to get to the past. Her suggestion simplified things, because now I had a target; one with blonde curly hair that smelled like jasmine. “It might not be as easy when it’s not physical.”

“But it is.” I swallowed hard and clutched Rainey’s purse. Her phone dinged with another alert about me. “It’s Rainey.”

Lennon’s red lips parted but she didn’t answer.

“The future is a disaster. Vampires sucked all the energy out of the city. The tourists are gone, nothing works, and it’s dark all the time.” Our shadows were long in the hallway, and we hadn’t seen a soul since leaving the dressing room. I worried how close we were to that reality. “The only thing that stayed constant was Embrace.”

“You went to Embrace on purpose? No, of course not, you said you couldn’t control where you landed.” She shuddered. “I quit my job because it was too dangerous to be there. The vampires were organizing. I was torn whether I should stay and listen, so I could warn the others, or block it out and not risk being labeled a traitor. That’s what I chose.”

She had to know some of it. Lennon worked at Embrace forever, and saw a lot of shady crap. Something serious happened to make her reach her breaking point. I’d seen the results with my own eyes; a breakdown of vampire society as we knew it.

“Are they organizing with Blade?” I asked. He had many goals. Taking out his ex-girlfriend, who happened to be The Mistress of the most powerful vampire clan in Las Vegas, was the main one. Making evil the new black, he was down with that, too. Blade was starving for respect. Even more than that, he needed to be someone’s everything. I was willing to give him a lot, but none of the things he wanted most.

“No. Rachel is the leader.”

Now it was my turn to be speechless. “But she’s been here with Callie,” I finally managed. Rachel’s boyfriend was in Tristan’s band. My band. For the Embrace contingent to flourish, Callie’s clan would have to be destroyed. Lennon nodded, confirming the conflict of interest.

“What does she want?” I asked. “I just travelled, and she was there. I’m not sure how far in the future it was, but she was willing to help me find Rainey.”

“Rachel’s not evil,” Lennon said, and I wasn’t sure I agreed. “She’s looking for a place she belongs.”

“Aren’t we all?” I was exhausted, igniting and travelling all in one night. These weren’t the type of things I could train for at the gym. It was all mental.

I was half-vampire, half-witch, and in love with two people—one had been sent to me by an angel, and the other aspired to bring Las Vegas to its knees. So looking for a place to belong ran in the family.

Lennon reached for my hand. “Come to the party. It should be pretty chill by this point.”

“I need to find Rainey.” Her phone hadn’t stopped pinging during our conversation. I pulled it out of her purse, scrolling through the notifications, praying that she’d send a message to her own phone. No such luck. The image of the two of us together, laying on the same pillow and laughing in our selfie, was blurry through my unshed tears.

“Do you have any idea where to look?” Lennon asked.

“Not one.” I forced a smile, but the corners of my mouth fought me hard. I didn’t cry. Rainey would hate that. She always thought I was so strong, so brave, and she never realized it was because she was my rock. “When I travelled, Rachel said something about another Realm. But not how far in the future I’d have to go to find it.”

Lennon pulled me into a hug, rocking me back and forth. I had to be careful about touching people and picking up on their energy after I’d ignited, but I needed this. I needed her. Whether or not she was ready to admit that I was right about her reincarnation, she assumed the mom role when I needed it most.

She pulled away and ran her finger under my eyes, drying my tears. “What was Rachel wearing when you travelled?”

I liked where she was going with this. “All leather.”

“Sounds tacky.” Lennon laughed. “When I left the party, she was there. And she wasn’t dressed like a Dominatrix.”

“If this is a trap…” I pulled away from Lennon’s grasp. “Callie will freak out when she sees me at that party.” Last time, my plus one was a pissed off vampire who wanted to pick The Mistress out of his fangs. Understandably, I hadn’t started this night on her top ten list, either.

“I know you’ve had a rough time with vampires. I won’t let any of them come between you and Rainey.” Lennon put her arm around me, and it was the most natural thing in the world to follow her toward the elevator that would bring me to their lair. “This is bigger than anything we’ve dealt with before. Come to the party. Let’s start getting everyone on your side.”

 

Chapter Three

It wasn’t that easy.

Everyone should’ve already been on my side. We were partners in the newest show on the Strip, The Afterlife. And from the looks of the reviews that kept obscuring Rainey’s face on the screen, it could also be the shortest-lived show.

I fucked up—my performance had been shaky from the get-go.

I hadn’t been raised vamp. Instead, I’d been raised as an embarrassment, but it meant I could go out in daylight, eat human food, and burst into flames. It wasn’t until I was brought to Las Vegas to lure vampires to me and destroy them did I learn I was one of them. I didn’t share many traits with vampires, but now I wondered if I fed from energy, too.

The ding of the elevator door opening snapped me back from that thought. The vampires of Las Vegas existed in a Realm I failed to master—so far—and I couldn’t afford to make one more mistake.

Tristan Trevosier was the first to notice my arrival. He nodded, his eyes heavy-lidded from too much drink. But Callie was laser sharp beside him, her disapproval made clear by her glare.

If The Mistress could’ve gotten rid of me when she helped destroy my father, she would’ve done it without a second thought. But she couldn’t, and that wasn’t the only thing that gave me the upper hand.

“Great show tonight,” Tristan said as we exchanged cheek kisses. He managed to sober up in time for the show, but that was behind us now. I worried about him. Not only because I couldn’t do the show without him, but because I considered him a friend.

“I can do better.” I nodded at Callie. “I missed a lot of my cues, and my routine was sloppy.” It was better to acknowledge my screw-ups than get sideswiped by them.

“Fuck that.” Tristan scoffed. “Never give them perfect. If you do, there’s no reason for them to come back. They want the unexpected.”

“I never thought of it that way.”

“The most important thing is that they talk about you long after they leave the show,” Callie added, but her gaze slid to Tristan. He slapped her ass in response. She squealed like she forgot she had an audience. It was short-lived, and her attention was back on me. “That’s why you need to cooperate when the camera crew is around. So they don’t forget about you.”

The Mistress might as well have slapped me in the face. Nobody was ever going to forget about me.

“Is that why you made that sex tape?” My words were a growl forced between gritted teeth.

“That wasn’t meant for an audience. I’m not like you. You’ll bare all for anyone who pays a hundred bucks.” Callie’s gaze fell to my chest. Unlike during the show, it was covered now. “What else do you do for money, Holly?”

“Ladies.” Lennon pulled my arm before I had a chance to answer. Or throttle Callie. She and I had closed in on each other. Callie bit her lip to conceal her smile, but not her fangs. I’d burn the little bitch before she even broke skin.

“It’s kinda hot.” Tristan grinned. “Come on. The two of you won’t destroy each other. You need each other too much.”

We both turned to him, ready to rip him a new asshole, but no words came out as we realized he was right. It sucked.

“Speaking of cameras”—Lennon kept a firm grip on me as she talked—“can we have access to what was taped tonight?”

“The production company takes it with them. We don’t get it back until it’s edited. Why?” Callie asked.

“That’s not what I’m talking about, doll.” Lennon could diffuse any situation. Without her, Embrace had most likely disintegrated into a festering, open wound. “I mean the surveillance tapes.”

Oh. Good thinking.

“Yeah.” Callie’s gaze landed on me. “What’s going on?”

“Notice anything missing?” I scanned the room. It hadn’t occurred to me that Rainey could’ve been waiting for me up here all along. I knew better than that. Rainey would rather stand on stage naked than go to a vampire party by herself. And she always left the public nudity to me.

Callie rolled her eyes. “I figured Rainey and Blade would make a grand entrance later, now that you’re a happy little threesome. You managed to avoid the surveillance cameras last time you crashed the party.” She squinted, checking the room to make sure we hadn’t pulled anything else over on her. Callie understood her weaknesses. None of us were sure how many she had, or what was the breaking point. “Where is she?”

“That’s what I’m asking you.” Shit, that came out all wrong. The fangs were back on display. “I don’t think you did anything to her. But she’s not here, I have her purse and her phone, and she’d never leave without telling me.”

Blade and the Embrace contingent were familiar with Gabriel and his drinking buddies. I didn’t think of them all as angels because I didn’t know if they were like him or like Rainey—sent to Earth to save us from ourselves. And I had no idea how much Callie knew about him. When dealing with her, I didn’t like to share information. Anything I said could and would be used against me.

And if Rachel were to be believed, Callie wouldn’t have power over me for long. I wasn’t playing fair, being able to see the future. It was maddening not to share every gruesome detail with all of them. I’d been on the receiving end of that for years with Rainey, and it was too easy to dismiss all the warnings and still be unprepared when it came to pass.

She really was an angel for putting up with me for so long.

“I need to see the tapes. She wouldn’t have left on her own. Not like that.” I dangled the strap of her purse off the edge of my finger.

“Follow me. You know where the surveillance room is.” Callie detained Rainey and I there when Rainey cast a spell to make people think she was The Mistress. Until now, it hadn’t occurred to me that Rainey could’ve done that tonight. No. I couldn’t keep making up excuses and refusing to face the hard, ugly truth. She was gone.

“You didn’t piss Blade off, I hope.” Callie waited for the elevator doors to close before she tossed out her accusation. “You know I have, and it’s not pretty. He left his common sense in the human world. He ripped my roommate to shreds, and he took out Lennon’s boyfriend, too.”

Holy shit. I knew about the roommate, but I forgot about Lennon’s connection to the first wave of vampires that tried to destroy me. Lennon balled her fist against the glass wall, not looking at either of us. I never thought about her life past the parameters of what had been with Cash. There was only about two-hundred and thirty years of filling in the blanks to do. I was so desperate to have her on my side I’d been willing to ignore any history that didn’t suit my needs.

“Is that true?” I asked. The motion of the elevator threatened to make me ill.

She nodded. “We think so. The murder was never solved. That’s the problem with being something other than human. Can’t expect their rules to protect you anymore. Jacey died around the same time we realized that Talis had been destroyed.”

“Also by Blade,” Callie interjected. Sure, he was racking up the kills, but none of it erased that she took out my father.

“The investigation was totally overshadowed by Talis. Everything fell into chaos, and Blade was an easy explanation. Things fell apart for Fire Dancer after that.”

I did not want to think of my first venture into Vampirelandia. I had to keep my wits about me, because chances were I wasn’t going to like what I saw on the surveillance tapes. Especially when I would need vampires to help me get Rainey back. Darkness, light, I didn’t give a damn how they did it.

Walking into the office, I could practically taste Rainey. The sensation melted on the tip of my tongue, but unlike her, it didn’t disappear. It intensified like the whisper of her skin against my hand, but when I looked down, nothing was there. Lennon had been hugging herself ever since we left the elevator, and Callie was never in the mood to cuddle.

Rainey was here, which chilled me to the bone. I refused to consider that the Realm Rachel mentioned involved death. It was possible that without Rainey, I was more aware of my vampire traits. Rainey neutralized them. Left to my own devices, I knew I’d be drawn to the darkness, but I expected it to be more of a shove than a swan dive.

“We have cameras covering almost every angle of the theater. Where do you want to start?” Callie’s voice snapped against me like an electric shock. She sat in the chair that Rainey had occupied last time I was here, and tapped at the keyboard. There was a series of password hoops she had to jump through before she could manipulate the data. Sin City Vampire Club had been guarded well against mortal attack, but it was full of holes in the places it counted.

“She was sitting in the front row.” I pulled a chair next to Callie. Lennon didn’t sit, instead she held onto the back of my chair. I glanced back at her and she winked at me. I wasn’t sure if she meant to say you’ve got this or bitch, you are so fucked.

“I saw her there.” Callie tapped the keys, bringing up a fuzzy screen full of screaming fans. She pinched the image on the screen, manipulating it to zoom in on Rainey’s seat. “When was the last time you talked to Blade?”

“The night you kicked us out of the party,” I said. His absence left a void, and so many unanswered questions.

My fire had been the result of our union—the three of us, Blade, Rainey, and me. Their powers flowed into me and I ignited. That night, we hadn’t fought. I simply pushed him away.

I had trust issues, and this was why. No one was fully good or fully evil.

“Hmm.” Callie didn’t have to say what she was thinking. She already had all the evidence she needed to support her theory. She swiped the screen, positioning the image over Rainey’s smiling face.

It hurt to look at her.

Callie pushed play. “The cameras in the crowd pivot, so we won’t have a continuous shot on her. It’s never been necessary to have a still cam on the audience. We’ve had threats before from fans, but they usually don’t stay in one place. If we don’t catch her leaving, we’ll still be able to narrow down the timeframe of when she left her seat.”

It left too many variables. “She was gone when I did my silk routine.”

“That helps.” The tape dragged in slow motion. The only bright spots were the flashes of Rainey. It was easy to tell when my routine ended because the light faded from her eyes, and she fidgeted in her seat, glancing at her phone. Her phone.

“Go back,” I instructed. Callie did as I asked, freezing the frame on Rainey’s face. Her gaze was directed at the screen in her hand, and she frowned at whatever she saw.

I pulled the phone out of the bag and scrolled through the messages. There had to be a clue there.

“She had her phone.” Lennon was on the same page as I was. “But you said her purse was left in your dressing room. Are there cameras in your dressing room?”

I eyed Callie. “There better not be.” Now I was regretting the decision to make my dressing room off-limits.

She shook her head. “No. The only places in the theater that aren’t under surveillance are the dressing rooms.”

“Does anyone else know that?”

“Only the people who have access to this room.” Callie tapped at the keyboard, bringing up an image of my closed dressing room door. “And you have to be pretty high on the food chain to get these codes.”

“But your guards brought Rainey and me to this room when they wanted to hold us prisoner.” Which never made any sense to me, unless it was some sort of passive-aggressive resistance against The Mistress. “So your enemies might not have the numbers, but they know the lay of the land.”

She turned her chair toward me. “I can count my enemies on one hand.”

“Is that so?” I stifled a laugh. She’d dipped into whatever Tristan drank to wash away reality. “Do you know who Gabriel is?”

Lennon’s grip tightened, pulling my chair away from Callie.

Callie smiled, her tongue settling on her fang. I’d let her keep thinking they scared me. If she could keep Tristan happy, chances were pretty good I’d like it if she bit me. “Everyone thinks I’m weak because I’m young. Or because I didn’t earn my position. So what, I had connections. But I inherited a very sophisticated system. I have surveillance all over this city. I keep an eye on what’s happening at Embrace. I haven’t stepped in because it’s much more satisfying to watch them destroy themselves.”

Interesting theory. Too bad she was dead wrong.

“You’re not answering my question,” I said. She couldn’t even tell me when my girlfriend had been stolen out of her theater. She was bluffing. “What do you know about Gabriel?”

“He’s not a vampire. I’m not concerned with him.” She turned back to the screens, calling up the tape from the camera outside my door.

I could hardly breathe, waiting for something to happen. “You should be. Without his help, The Afterlife has no chance of succeeding.”

“What are you talking about? Don’t blame other people if you can’t hold up your end of the bargain.” Callie shook her head, but her eyes were glued to the screens.

“It’s the energy.” I was getting grumpier by the second, and it had nothing to do with my company. “It’s like someone’s draining me. Rainey balances the different sides of me, like the fans do for Tristan and the rest of the band. Gabriel was probably also keeping the peace at Embrace.”

“Makes sense,” Lennon added. “He stopped coming a little while after the night you saw him. And everything went downhill from there.”

“What do you think he is?” As clan Mistress with a ‘very sophisticated system,’ she shouldn’t be asking that question. Unless she was trying to gauge what I thought. I didn’t have anything to lose by telling her, because he’d already taken everything.

“Gabriel’s an angel.” I gasped, unable to finish my theory when Rainey flashed on the screen. Nothing seemed unusual as she entered my dressing room. I concentrated on breathing. It wasn’t easy, waiting for shit to hit the fan. So far, nothing.

Callie leaned back in the chair. “What does that have to do with The Afterlife?”

She was so screwed if I had to explain this to her. My patience wore thin waiting for Rainey to emerge from that room. “He’s been guiding Rainey for years. Longer than you’ve been alive.” I had to make this sound more coherent than when Rainey explained her visions to me. “She was the one trying to make things right, keeping me out of trouble. If I couldn’t be pulled away from the darkness, he threatened to take her someplace where she could make a difference. I’d been able to do it until Immortal Dilemma closed their show. Since then, vampires are consuming too much energy. The city can’t sustain it.”

“The Afterlife will fix it.” Callie didn’t buy into my conspiracy theory, but at least she admitted there was a problem.

“Without Rainey, I’m not sure I can sustain my fire.” And if Blade was behind her disappearance, I was doubly screwed. “And the reviews…”

“Don’t worry about the reviews.” Callie groaned. “All press is good press. We knew you didn’t have your fire when we signed the contract.”

“So you played me.” I wouldn’t tell her how much I didn’t agree with her. I expected every review to be glowing. That was the energy I needed from the crowd. Complete awe and admiration, not to be made into a laughing stock when I misfired.

“No, Holly. We—”

The room fell silent when a figure appeared on the screen, and the three of us turned to each other in confusion when we realized it was me.

“Did we miss something?” Lennon dragged out the words. “Because Rainey didn’t come out and you just went in. Is there another door?”

“Just to the bathroom.” I racked my brain, trying to remember if anything was off in my dressing room when I came back from my silk routine. I’d been aware of her absence at that point, and it had thrown me off. But as I tried to calm myself down, already knowing the worst-case scenario had begun to unravel much like I had minutes before, I missed a lot. I didn’t remember seeing her purse, or any signs of struggle, or any evidence she actually entered the room.

Callie rewound the tape and we watched it again. Nothing. Rainey went in the room and never came out.

“Do you think she cast a spell?” Callie asked, her voice soft. All her usual bravado and bullshit defenses were gone. It scared me even more.

“She must have.” In a way, it comforted me because it meant no one had taken her against her will. But it meant that she left on her own.

She left me.

**

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kristenstrassel