“ARE YOU okay, Drake?”
No, I wasn’t okay. In fact, I was about as far away from being okay as you could possibly get, but my throat kept me from answering. I glanced into the face and eyes of the boy I loved. Mason shook the strands of hair away from his face, but he couldn’t shake away the sadness that flooded his gaze. It told me he’d do anything to take away my pain.
If only grief could be spirited away so easily.
I swallowed hard, trying to force my throat open to respond, but the emotions that bubbled up from my soul refused to budge. They sat there, waiting for the moment when my resolve fell and the pain ripping me to pieces inside came flooding out.
Mason moved to stand behind me and wrapped his arms around my chest, holding me tight. I inhaled his musky, sweet scent and embraced the warmth of his touch and the soothing rhythm of his heartbeat. His love and devotion prevented me from being swept away by the pain I’d yet to fully express.
It told me that I didn’t have to talk. All I had to do was be held.
I leaned into his touch, drawing on the strength he always gave me, and returned my attention to the sturdy half Cape house surrounded by the white picket fence. I could still see my aunt Millie tending to the garden and fussing at me for helping her. God, how she hated that! She would always tell me she could do it her damn self, and despite her advanced age, painful arthritis, and heart arrhythmia, she meant every word. She was the definition of an independent woman with a spirit stronger than a wild mustang running across the prairie, and this house had been her pride and joy.
It was also where she had been murdered, where magic stole something dear from me, and where my aunt Millie had been turned into a vampyre. My heart sank.
“I miss her somethin’ awful.” The white plumes of vapor that exited my body in short, rapid spurts told me it was cold, but I couldn’t feel the sharp sting of the chilly air. I had been numb ever since I woke up that morning because I knew that today I’d be saying one final good-bye to the house that had been my home for too brief a time.
Mason held me tighter, rubbing his cheek against mine. It always made me feel safe when he did that. It told me he was here for whatever I needed. He’d been there for me ever since we met, even if we didn’t particularly like each other at first.
He had protected me, saved me, loved me, and given the boy who had lost his entire world a new family.
“I miss her too. She was the best.”
I nodded, tears streaming down my cheeks. She was the best of the best, and this world was a sadder place now that the monster Ben Crane had turned her into had replaced the Millicent Carpenter I knew. The five-foot-three woman with a heart of gold and a soul of steel was gone. Only a seven-foot-tall vampyre with jagged teeth and a prehensile tongue remained, and the woman who once did everything she could to protect me now tried to kill me every time our paths crossed.
And I was likely going to have to run a stake through her heart.
“I don’t know if I can do this.”
“You don’t have to.” Mason turned me around in his arms and pressed his forehead to mine in a show of solidarity. “You can back out of the sale. You know my dad would take care of it.”
I had no doubt. Oliver Blackmoor had taken care of so much for me already. Besides welcoming me into his home and his family with open arms, he had been the one to hire the realtor, to make sure the house was ready for the market, and ultimately the one who had negotiated the sale. For an intimidating warlock who could turn his body into stone, he was one of the sweetest men in the world. I couldn’t have asked for a better surrogate father.
“No. It’s time to say good-bye.” I glanced over my shoulder, sweeping my gaze across the house and the garden as the sun slowly sank behind the roofline. “It just seems so final. Like I’m givin’ up on savin’ Aunt Millie.”
Mason didn’t respond. He knew exactly what I wanted, what I had been poring through all the magical texts in the Blackmoor library to find—a spell that would release my aunt from the vampyren curse and return her to the woman she’d once been.
Thad, Mason’s older brother, the one the family teasingly called Brainiac, had told me on countless occasions that no such magic existed, that the immortalitas spell could not be broken. In the months since Aunt Millie had been turned, I had refused to accept that, and no one had tried to make me, but now, well, now that the house had been sold, I couldn’t help but feel as if I had failed.
“Drake, I want you to listen to me. Okay?”
I returned my gaze to his and nodded.
“You’re not giving up because I’m not giving up. We’ll keep looking, and one of these days we will find something.”
Tears tumbled down my cheeks as I smiled up at him. How had I been so lucky to fall in love with the sweetest, most handsome warlock ever born? “You really think so?”
He pressed his lips to mine. “I know so.”
Mason’s words refilled my soul with the strength it thrived on. I had spent too many hours recently wallowing in grief and dread. It was time to let hope and determination back in. That was the son my parents had raised. That was the type of person Aunt Millie had been every day of her life. That was the type of person I had to be, the Drake Carpenter who honored the memory of his lost loved ones not with tears and misery but with happiness and vigor.
I wrapped my arms around Mason’s neck and drew his lips to mine. “Thank you.”
“For bein’ you.”
A devious smirk twisted his lips. “You usually get upset when I’m being me.”
He had me there. While I might be crazy in love with Mason, sometimes he just drove me crazy. “This you I approve of.”
Mason snuffed. “What happened to love being unconditional?”
“Oh, it’s conditional, all right. Definitely conditional.”
“Well, that’s not very romantic.” The fake scowl on his face almost made me laugh. No matter how bad things got or how shattered I felt, I could always count on him to make me feel better.
“There’s just one condition.”
He blew the strands of hair from his eyes. “And what’s that?”
“That you love me forever.”
Mason’s smile lit up his face. “Only if you promise to love me forever.”
“Easiest promise ever.”
“Good, then it’s se—” Mason froze as his gaze darted over my shoulder.
“What is it?”
He grabbed me and shoved me toward the car. “Get in and don’t come out until I tell you to.”
“What the hell is goin’ on?” I wheeled around and glanced into the street-facing windows of the cottage. When I saw who was staring back at me, I gasped.
It was Aunt Millie.
I WATCHED in horror as Mason ran up the sidewalk and sprinted for the front door. He couldn’t go in there, especially not alone. Aunt Millie would kill him. “Mason, no!”
“Get in the car,” he yelled over his shoulder as he bounded up the porch steps.
Like hell I was. “Wait for me.”
He spun around and gestured at me. “Remane.”
In response, my legs suddenly wouldn’t work, no matter how hard I willed them to start running. Damn him! I was immune to all magic but Mason’s. No one knew why other people’s spells had no effect on me if I didn’t want them to, but Thad had a theory about why Mason’s did. We were spell bound, two souls that had been connected across several past lives. That magical connection allowed Mason’s spells to work on me, to protect me, because our love gave him as much power over me as I had over him.
“Don’t you go in there!”
Mason blew me a kiss before shoving open the door and disappearing inside.
Of all the irresponsible, hotheaded things he could do, this was by far the stupidest move Mason had ever made. He was going after a vampyre, a creature who not only built up immunity to spells but who could kill him without half trying, alone. If he made it out of this alive, I was going to kill him.
Somehow I had to get in there and help him, but I had to call in reinforcements first. I pulled my phone out of my pocket.
Aunt Millie is here. At her house. Come quick!
After I hit Send, I shoved my phone back into my pocket and focused on my legs. My brain screamed at them to run, to get to Mason before Aunt Millie did, but they wouldn’t respond. While I was glad Mason’s power was growing stronger every day, right now the power of his spell pissed me off.
I had to get to him, and no one, not even Mason, was going to get in my way.
I let out a cry of fury and pain, using all the willpower I could muster to move. My thigh muscles shook and spasmed as I tried to force my legs free. Sweat dripped down my face in tiny rivulets. It was like I was working out in the middle of summer instead of being deep in a Massachusetts winter.
My right foot rose an inch off the snow-covered sidewalk before the remnants of Mason’s spell forced it back down. It was working. My immunity to magic was counteracting the spell. All I had to do was give it one final push and I’d be free to run after Mason, help him fight Aunt Millie, and then kick his ass all the way back home.
I took a deep breath and put all my strength into my next attempt. With one final howl, I managed to tear my right leg free of Mason’s spell, and a second later I was dashing down the sidewalk and through the front door.
I tried the lights, but they weren’t working. I wasn’t surprised. They hadn’t been working the last time a vampyre had been sneaking around inside. Since the sun had set, I could only see a few feet into the living room. All I could make out was an empty room.
No Mason. No Aunt Millie.
No response either.
I inched forward, stopping where the light cast by the lampposts outside ended and the inky darkness of the room began. Once I crossed the threshold, there would be no turning back. I would be alone, in the dark, with a woman I loved dearly who wanted to kill the boy I loved, rip open my throat, and drink my blood.
“Mason!” I screamed at the top of my lungs. I scanned the shadows, searching for movement and listening for the telltale hiss of a vampyre ready to attack.
There was only silence.
If Mason were okay, he’d be telling me to quit yelling and get in there. He’d be bitching that he couldn’t stop Aunt Millie before she flew off into the evening sky. He’d also be complaining that I should have listened and waited for him in his car.
But he wasn’t doing any of those things, which meant I had to do what I feared the most: enter the darkness, face my aunt Millie, and do whatever I had to, to make sure she didn’t hurt Mason.
I took a deep breath and stepped out of the light and into the shadows.
No one suddenly rushed me, so I inched farther into the room, putting more distance between myself and the door that led to safety. I scanned the dark interior, my eyes sweeping past the barren walls where my aunt Millie’s collection of floral prints once hung. I moved past the place where her light green couch once sat, the spot where she worked on the New York Times crossword while she watched Jeopardy! I plunged farther into the house that had once been my refuge, and with each step, my heartbeat thundered in my ears and my breath grew more and more ragged.
My phone chimed and I practically jumped out of my skin. It was most likely Thad finally responding. He was probably telling me to get the hell out of here, to run as fast as I could, to not go inside the house. I couldn’t tell him it was too late. If I opened my phone and stared into the bright screen, it would momentarily blind me. I couldn’t afford any disadvantage right now because no matter how much I loved my aunt Millie, she would kill me at the first opportunity.
I had to be prepared. I had to keep going. I had to save Mason if he wasn’t already—
No. I couldn’t go there.
I pressed my back against the living room wall that stood adjacent to the entrance to the kitchen. From here, the shadowed hallway that led to the bedrooms opened like a dark mouth to my left, while the shadowy kitchen lay to my right. If I went into the hallway, I’d give the shadows in the kitchen my back. If I went into the kitchen, whatever waited for me in the hallway would be able to reach out and devour me whole.
I had to make a choice, and I had to make it fast.