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It has been six years since the Awakening and peace in Spokane, Washington is still tenuous at best. The vampires and shifters are all vying for control of the city and the humans seem to be the ones suffering the consequences, or so it seems.
Aria Naveed has spent the last two years of her life fighting to make the many wrongs of the world right, but soon finds out that the humans aren’t as weak as they appear and may be a more terrifying foe than any of the other races combined.
When a stranger rolls into town with trouble on his heels, Aria finds herself trapped in the middle of a battle that could cost her more than she has bargained for as a fight for justice turns into an unexpected fight for her life.
As Friend of the Pack, Aria Naveed should be untouchable, protected by the most influential group in the Pacific Northwest. But someone is unleashing rogue vampires to hunt her down, and she is determined to find out why.
When Aria gains command of Sanborn Place and takes on a case involving a mysterious paranormal, her life is put in more peril than ever as she finds herself bound to an influential power player. She doesn’t want to be anyone’s puppet, but must tread carefully as she traverses the streets of Spokane, WA, or risk being overwhelmed by the forces moving against her.
As the only known pyrokinetic in the area, Aria is in high demand, but not for her services. It seems that to those in power, she’s worth more dead than alive, and if a mysterious enemy has their way, she won’t live long enough to find out why.
Cursed by Fire
Author: Danielle Annett
Release Date: January 28th, 2015
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Paranormal
(Beginning of Chapter 1)
All I saw was blood. Blood soaked my hands and coated the walls. It stained the concrete flooring of the abandoned warehouse and dripped from fixtures that hung from the ceiling, trickling like a slow rain. My vision blurred as anguish filled me. How could this have happened? How could I have been too late?
I stared down at the lifeless body of a child. A boy. Kneeling in a pool of congealing blood, I ran my fingers through his chestnut hair, ignoring the now-cool moisture seeping into the denim of my pants. His face was unrecognizable. Gone was the child with the dimpled cheek and brilliant blue eyes. Left behind was a mass of flesh and bone—a ruined body drained of its life force at such a young age.
Reality snapped like an elastic band, bringing me back to the present as I sat at my desk in Sanborn Place. Ripped from the haunted memories of finding Daniel’s body.
The world was a cruel place. It was a fact of life and even though I knew it was true, I still had a hard time coming to terms with the atrocities people committed. The cruelties that for some god-forsaken reason, people thought were okay. Staring down at the wallet-sized photo now crumpled in my hands, I was greeted by a crown of chestnut hair, bright blue eyes, a heart-shaped face, and a brilliant smile; a single dimple on his left cheek. The face of an innocent seven-year-old boy, cut down like he was little more than a calf brought to slaughter. I found myself struggling to link the image of this smiling boy to that of the ruined body I’d found less than forty-eight hours ago.
Inside, a small part of me burned. My blood heated and a turbulent rage rolled through me, one I had to fight to contain.
“Ari, you’ve got to stop staring at the kid. He’s gone. Let it go,” I heard Mike say.
I couldn’t let it go. I didn’t understand how he could either. I looked up from the photograph and stared Mike straight in the eyes. He cringed but held my gaze.
“He was seven-years-old, Mike,” I said through clenched teeth. “Seven!”
I shook my head, the poor kid had barely lived, barely tasted what the world had to offer. I take that back, he’d tasted too much of what the world could give and it had cost him.
Ever since the Awakening six years ago when all things that went bump in the night decided to come out of the woodwork and play, safety had been tenuous at best and kids like this, like seven-year-old Daniel Blackmore, were suffering the price.
Vampires, shifters, mages, witches and many more creatures of the night so to speak had seemingly popped out of nowhere, deciding they were ready to integrate themselves into everyday, or night, society.
Daniel had been abducted by a rogue vampire. I’d found his mangled body, broken and discarded as if he were nothing more than a piece of trash and I was going to find the bastard that had killed him and make him pay.
“Ari, I know what you’re thinking and the answer is no.”
I looked Mike up and down. He was an older man in his late forties with a streak of silver in his otherwise midnight colored hair. The wrinkles around his eyes would lead you to believe he smiled a lot but I knew better. Those lines were from his ever-present frown. Dressed in black slacks and a grey button up shirt, his mid-section strained against the buttons looking like they could pop off at any moment, likely taking someone’s eye out in the process.
“I wasn’t asking for your permission,” I told him, my gaze going back to the photo.
“I don’t give a rat’s ass if you were asking. I’m telling you, Ari, let it go! You can’t help him anymore. All you’ll end up doing is getting yourself hurt or worse, killed for your trouble.”
That was the problem with people who had lived through the Awakening. Their only concern was self-preservation. Nothing else mattered. Well, screw that because this little boy, he mattered. His life mattered and he deserved justice. I had scrubbed my hands after finding his broken body but couldn’t scrub the stain his death left on my soul.
I stood up from my desk and grabbed my keys and daggers. I sheathed the twin blades on either side of my waist, grabbed my leather jacket, and made a beeline for the door. Mike crossed the room to intercept me, arms folded over his chest blocking my way.
“Move,” I bit out.
“I can move you.”
“You can, but you won’t.”
I ground my teeth together. He was being ridiculous. This entire situation was ridiculous.
“Mike, this isn’t some game. A little boy died. He died! Does that even matter to you? I couldn’t live with myself if I let this one go.”
“What’s your plan, Ari, you going to just storm into the coven and force them to tell you who did it? They won’t tell you. They protect their own and you’re one person against an entire Coven of bloodthirsty vampires. Even the kid’s parents know it’s a lost cause. They’ve dropped the case and are focusing on burying their kid. They’re coming to terms with his death. It’s over.”
I’d been hired by Jessica Blackmore, Daniel’s mother, a little over two weeks ago to find her son who’d gone missing one afternoon. He had been walking home from a friend’s, only five houses down from his own, but never made it to the front door. She’d thought it safe enough to allow him the small bit of independence but with paranormals about, it was never truly safe.
Mike knows I’m different. He knows I have pyrokinetic abilities and he knows I can take care of myself. This wasn’t reason talking, this was him being overprotective. Feeling the temperature in the room begin to rise I forced myself to inhale and exhale slowly. Trying to calm down and keep my pyrokinesis locked up tight. It wouldn’t help the situation to start a fire. All it would do is prove to Mike that I wasn’t in control and right now I was in no mood for a lecture.
“Look, Ari, you’re a mercenary. You take on a job when you have a client. There is no client so there is no job. We’re not the police. We don’t try to clean up the streets or bag the bad guys. We’re mercs.”
I couldn’t blame him for his way of thinking. Hell, two weeks ago I would have said the same thing, but this was different. He was just a kid and I couldn’t believe everyone was so willing to leave his murderer out there.
Mid-sentence I heard the distinct buzz of a cell phone. Mike dug his phone out of his left pocket and answered it without looking at the screen.
“Hello,” he said. Mike’s face scrunched in confusion, a furrow forming between his brows. He listened for several moments and then with a grunt he hung up and stared me down. At six feet tall, he towered over me by a good five inches, but I didn’t back down. Lifting my chin and giving him my best try me stare. The one I knew drove him crazy.
“Looks like you’re getting exactly what you asked for,” he said.
“And what exactly is that?”
“That was Declan Valkenaar on the phone.”
Holy shit, the Pack Alpha. What the hell was he doing calling Mike?
The light began to fade from his eyes as I crawled across the floor in an effort to reach my father. My nails were raw and bloody as I struggled to carry myself closer to him, digging into the rough wooden floors with each drag of my body.
“I’m coming,” I panted in between breaths. “Just hang on, Papa, I’m coming.”
I woke gasping for breath, drenched in a cold sweat, clutching the hilt of my dagger as if my life depended on it. I frantically looked around the room in search of our attacker while also taking stock of any injuries. I was perfectly whole.
“It was just a nightmare,” I told myself, though that did little to ease the ache in my chest over the remembered pain. I miss you so much.
Rubbing my hands over my face, I pushed back the wet, loose tendrils of hair that had escaped my braid during my fitful rest and returned my dagger to its resting place beneath my pillow. Taking another deep breath I registered a hint of smoke.
My eyes roamed over the room, frantically looking for the source of fire.
“You have got to be kidding me!”
I untangled my body from the sheets, tripping and falling into a heap on the floor before I was able to crawl out of my covers and retrieve an old shirt. I frenziedly swatted at the bedroom curtains with the old t-shirt but the flames continued to rise. Deciding there was no other choice, I ripped the curtains from the window and rushed to the kitchen.
Throwing the curtains into the sink and turning the faucet on all the way, I watched as the flames were snuffed and steam began to rise. The curtains ruined.
Turning the water off, I allowed my body to slide down the smooth wooden cabinets until my bottom met the cool tile floor. I folded my arms across my knees and rested my forehead against them. Closing my eyes I took several deep breaths, my heart still racing from the effects of the recurring nightmare. This was getting out of hand. I had thought the nightmares were fading, but something was bringing the memories back with a screaming vengeance and this was the third time this week they’d plagued me. I missed my parents but it’d been over six years now. They weren’t coming back and I needed to let it go. My subconscious needed to let it go and I needed to let Daniel’s death go. Not the case, no, I wouldn’t let that go. But his death was affecting me in ways I couldn’t allow to continue.
I breathed deeply in an effort to calm my nerves. Small tremors racked my body, the nightmare had shaken me more that I’d like to admit. My skin was covered in a fine sheen of sweat. A physical reminder that I needed to relax before I accidentally caught something else on fire.
Danielle Annett is a reader, writer, photographer, and the blogger behind Coffee and Characters. Born in the SF Bay area, she now resides in Spokane, WA, the primary location for her Blood & Magic series.
Addicted to coffee at an early age, she spends her restless nights putting pen to paper as she tries to get all of the stories out of her head before the dogs wake up the rest of the house and vye for her attention.
• One (1) winner will receive a print copy of books 1 and 2, and a $10 Amazon GC (INT)