Author: Joelle Sterling
Release Date: April 30, 2013
Bestselling author Joelle Sterling concludes her vampire trilogy as a young woman must decide between love and saving her world. In the town of Frombleton, government and law enforcement are run by vampires, and humans can’t get justice—particularly after the sun goes down.
Holland Manning has been studying witchcraft at the elite Stoneham Academy. Having reached the rare pinnacle of Witch of the First Order, Holland is the only human who has the power to thwart the vampires’ heinous designs. She alone can save the town’s residents.
While devising a plan to overthrow the vampire regime, Holland is appalled to discover that another threat to humans has found its way to Frombleton: a growing band of ravenous zombies are prowling the streets, devouring the vampire’s food source and challenging their seat of power. And to Holland’s horror, at the helm of the marauding flesh eaters is the recently returned love of her life, Jonas!
No matter who wins, the human race is doomed unless Holland can make the arduous decision to choose victory over love.
His skin was smooth, the color of burnt sienna with a hint of crimson. With his broad nose, luscious full lips, and strong jawline, Elson Chandler was an undeniably beautiful man. Coils of kinky-curly hair fanned out against the pillow as he slept. Bare-chested and wearing black briefs, Elson was lean and muscular. His athletic body did not require grueling workouts at the gym. Forever young, Elson’s good looks had been maintained for over three hundred years.
From the confines of his satin-lined casket, Elson’s eyes opened at the sound of footsteps. He smiled faintly. Ismene, his devoted daughter-of-the night, was approaching with a glass of chilled blood. Her typically soft and graceful footsteps were uncharacteristically heavy and fast-paced. He listened intently, scowling as he heard a second set of footfalls that were shuffling and resistant.
“Let me go!” a high-pitched female voice cried.
Bracing himself for trouble, Elson bared his fangs. An instant later, he retracted the strong, sharp teeth and relaxed as he recalled the request he’d made before retiring at dawn: No refrigerated blood, tonight. I’d like to begin the evening with the taste of warm, living blood, and I expect you to make it happen, Ismene!
Ismene raised the lid of the solid bronze casket with its gold-plate finish, and Elson was surprised to see four bloody etchings on her slender arm. Gripping the sides of the gleaming coffin, he sat upright, and gazed at her questioningly.
“She scratched me,” Ismene responded, nodding at a squirming teenage girl who gawked at Elson through tearful eyes. Streaks of dark mascara and eye shadow smudged her face.
“Why’s he lying in a casket?” the girl whined. “What’s going on? Are you guys in like…you know…involved in some kind of vampire cult?”
Elson and Ismene shared amused smiles.
“I have to go home; I really have to go,” the girl said, and then attempted to wrench herself free. But she couldn’t break away from Ismene’s vise-like grip. “That cop had no right bringing me to this creepy, old place. If I don’t get home soon, my parents are gonna be pissed. My dad’s a lawyer, and he’ll sue the entire police department for false arrest!”
“A lawyer, huh?” Elson repeated thoughtfully. “Interesting. Perhaps I’ll have him draft some contracts for me. I look forward to meeting your father.” Elson threw one well-defined thigh and then the other over the side of the coffin and climbed out of his resting place. “How’d we acquire this delectable creature?” he asked Ismene.
“One of the police officers picked her up at the mall; she was apprehended for shoplifting.”
“Naughty girl,” Elson remarked with amusement.
The girl shook her head adamantly. “I didn’t steal anything. I told the cop that there’d been a mistake. I was trying on headbands in Claire’s. I paid for all my other stuff…earrings and bracelets, but I forgot about the stupid headband.”
“Wrong place; wrong time,” Elson commented and then focused on the droplets of blood that trickled down Ismene’s arm. “What happened?”
“She attempted to get away, and scratched me,” Ismene said with a nonchalant shrug.
“I’ll take care of that.” Elson reached out. Without question, Ismene extended her arm, and Elson licked away the trails of blood.
The girl cringed. “Oh, gross! Look, there has to be some kind of mistake. I have no idea why that cop brought me here. But my dad’s gonna be furious; he’s gonna have that idiot’s badge, and that’s a promise,” she yelled bitterly.
Elson looked up, regarding the outraged girl with amusement for a moment, and then returned his attention to Ismene’s injured arm. “Your skin is much too beautiful to be scarred. Lowering his head, he swiped his tongue along Ismene’s wounds again, licking until the scratch marks miraculously healed.
The girl’s eyes widened in shock as she regarded Ismene’s suddenly flawless skin. “I wanna go home.”
“Relax. You’ll be taken home after I’ve fed,” Elson said casually.
“After you’ve fed! What do you mean? Oh, geez. Don’t tell me you guys are like…real vampires. I heard rumors at school, but I didn’t believe—”
“Be quiet,” Ismene snapped and yanked the girl forward. “Drink Elson; you need your strength. Tonight is the beginning of your reign and you must be strong and clear minded.”
“No! Wait! Ohmigod, please don’t bite me,” the girl pleaded, literally jumping up and down with fear. Her voice rose to a frenzied wail, “I wanna go hooome!”
“Shh. Shh. What’s your name?” Elson asked quietly.
Refusing to answer, the girl groaned and shook her head.
Elson penetrated her thoughts and discovered her name. “Tessa…pretty name,” he said fondly.
“How do you know my name?” she demanded.
“Lucky guess.” Gently, he grasped her wrist. “Relax; don’t fight it, Tessa. Okay?” His rich, baritone voice was soft and seductive.
“No. Don’t,” Tessa cried. “Let me go. Please. I don’t wanna be turned into a vampire.”
Elson put a finger under her chin and tilted her head up. “You won’t be turned. You have my word.” Tessa recoiled from his touch, grimacing as Elson began to run his fingers along the length of her arm. He closed his eyes, enjoying the feeling of the warm blood that pulsed through her veins. Elson’s fangs pushed through his gums, and a clicking sound reverberated around the room.
A ragged cry tore from Tessa’s throat. “Ohigod, ohmigod! This is insane; this can’t be really happening,” she babbled in terror.
“Be still and be quiet,” Elson commanded, staring hypnotically into his captive’s eyes.
Tessa’s shoulders slumped in submission. “Okay,” she agreed, her brown eyes suddenly vacant.
Elson’s gaze wandered down to the pulse at the crook of her elbow. He brought her arm to his mouth and plunged his fangs deeply into her flesh. Under Elson’s spell, Tessa’s only reaction was a sharp intake of breath.
Ismene observed yearningly as Elson fed on the teenage girl. He drank with great, thirsty gulps, and Ismene involuntarily licked her lips. Sensing her discomfort, Elson withdrew his fangs and said, “Come and join me, my dear.”
In an instant, Ismene’s slender body was pressed into Tessa’s, her fangs deeply embedded in the girl’s neck.
At seven-fifty in the evening, Bradley M. Jones, Esquire was still at his desk, hunched over a yellow legal pad. Pen in hand, he quibbled over every word of the brief he was preparing. His staff had gone home hours ago, but Bradley had an important case in the morning, and he was willing to work through the night if necessary. He didn’t mind working late. In fact, he preferred the solitude of an empty building. His thoughts were clearer in the peaceful environment where there were no ringing phones and no noisy conversations among staff. The ticking of his desk clock and the patter of raindrops that tapped against the window pane were the only audible sounds. There was a certain comfort in being inside, cozy and dry, while the rest of the world dashed around in unpleasant weather.
The annoying buzz of his cell interrupted the quiet. He glanced at the screen and sneered when he saw his estranged wife’s name. “What is it, Nicole? Your substantial child support and alimony check isn’t due for two weeks.”
“Can’t you ever be civil?” Nicole complained with a long sigh. “I’m calling about Tessa. She hasn’t come home from school.”
Bradley’s face flushed with sudden anger. “It’s eight o’clock in the evening, and you’re just noticing that she isn’t home?”
“She told me she was going to stop at the mall after school—”
“I’m earning a living—running my firm and actively practicing law, while you lead a life of leisure. Your single obligation is to look after our daughter, but apparently you can’t even do that.”
“I’m a good mother and you know it!’
Nicole was right; she was a decent enough mother, but Bradley refused to admit it. For all the child support and alimony that came out of his pocket, she should have been a supermom.
“This isn’t about us, Bradley. I’m worried sick about Tessa,” she said anxiously. “I called all of her friends, but no one has seen or heard from her.”
“Maybe she’s hanging out with some kids outside her normal circle—you know, the kind of kids that snub their noses at curfew and other rules,” Bradley said weakly. His suggestion sounded ludicrous to his own ears. Tessa was a good kid. She was responsible and trustworthy, and she didn’t hang out with losers.
“She’s had the same group of friends since grade school; she wouldn’t suddenly pick up new friends.”
“Well, where the heck is she?” he barked, now imagining that his naïve, fifteen-year-old daughter fancied herself in love with some smooth-talking, pimply-faced boy. A boy who was able to persuade her to get in his car and take a ride to Marshall’s Peak…or wherever kids went nowadays to make out. Fury washed over him as he imagined his daughter’s innocence being stolen in the backseat of a car.
“The mall closed at seven.” Nicole’s voice cracked. “Do you think we should call the police?”
“Yes, report her missing. I’m leaving the office now; I’ll be at the house in fifteen minutes.” Bradley disconnected the call.
He snatched his suit jacket off the bronze coat rack and grabbed his umbrella. Dangling his key ring, he hurried out of his office suite and walked swiftly along the corridor. He wanted to be standing in the driveway with the police at his side when the young punk with raging hormones, dropped off his daughter. After he finished roughing up the low-life character, he planned to press charges. A night or two in the slammer would give the sleazebag a powerful message: Bradley M. Jones, Esquire’s daughter is strictly off limits.
Striding urgently toward the stairs, he heard something that sounded like gusts of wind coming from the conference room, and though he was in a rush, the sound emanating from the conference room was too loud and too persistent to ignore. If a member of his staff had carelessly left a window open while sneaking a smoke, there was going to be hell to pay in the morning. Bradley had built his law firm from the ground up with limited funds and lots of hard work. Allowing a thief easy access to laptops and other expensive office equipment was unconscionable.
Frowning in displeasure, Bradley opened the door. His eyes scanned the darkness and sure enough, one of the windows was open. Blasts of chilly air filled the room. He reached for the light switch, but froze mid-reach and gasped. A form that was blacker than the darkness seemed to be suspended from the ceiling.
“What the—?” In a panic, Bradley flicked on the switch and immediately wished he hadn’t. Defying gravity, a black-clad human form was grotesquely clinging to the ceiling like an enormous bat. The tails of its coat whipped and twisted, resembling furled wings. His heart thundering, Bradley gave a cry of shock as he gawked upward.
Aside from its billowing coattails, the coat-clad creature was as immobile as a macabre chandelier. Sweet Jesus! What is that thing? Deciding he didn’t want to find out, Bradley inched backward, with his umbrella extended for protection. But when the thing ever so slowly turned, its head, showing the unnaturally pale face of a man with a leering grin and vicious fangs, Bradley’s umbrella clattered to the floor as he made a stumbling run for it.
Racing down the corridor with his heart pounding out of his chest, Bradley heard a heavy thud behind him. The monstrous being had dropped to the floor. The high ceiling in the conference room made for a pretty long fall, and he prayed that the beastly intruder had been critically injured. Or killed! But all hope was instantly dashed when something grabbed him by the shoulder. He was suddenly lifted from the floor by strong hands with nails like curved daggers. The nails sank into his flesh…down to the bone. Overtaken by blinding agony, Bradley shrieked in pain and terror.
Copyright 2013 Joelle Sterling