Mishka, the vampire master of the largest coven in the state of Ohio, read the security report sent to him by the coven guards. Red hazed his vision as he viewed the report on his tablet: another vampire’s mate had been attacked during daylight hours. That made three in one month. He had been master of the Cleveland, Ohio, coven for years, and in all that time, he could count on one hand the number of mates who had been attacked. Three in the same month was no accident. The mates of his people were being targeted.
He laid the tablet on his desk, leaned back in the leather chair, and glanced across the desk to Brone, his oldest and most trusted friend. One thousand years old, Brone had been to hell and back more than once and lived to tell the tale. A male who held allegiance to none had chosen to join Mishka’s coven. Mishka trusted no one more.
“Options?” Mishka asked.
Brone was an imposing male: nearly seven feet tall and broad, with buzzed hair, blue eyes, and double fangs that were unique to his sire’s line. He was in charge of security for all of the coven’s holdings. “The mates were taken during daylight hours when they were most vulnerable. The first order of business is that mates do not leave without security. There are plenty of daytime guards that can adequately protect them.”
Mishka nodded. The coven specifically employed staff who could function during the daylight. Since vampires slept during the daytime, non-vampiric staff handled tasks from security to the business office. There were chefs who cooked for the non-vampire staff and mates, accountants and lawyers who handled the business side of the coven’s holdings, and the cleaning staff. Daytime security was most important to him. Members of his coven lived and worked in his clubs. He had clubs all over the northern part of the state but chose Fang as his residence, as did many of his coven members and his inner circle, known as his family.
“The clubs are safe?” Mishka asked.
“Yes.” Brone leaned back in the chair and narrowed his eyes. “But they were not attacked within the clubs, only outside of them. Percy’s mate was beaten up at the hair dresser. Nero’s on the way to her family’s home. And the most recent one, Horace’s mate, was shopping with friends.”
Mishka stifled a growl. The First Church of Humanity was a vicious thorn in his side. Since they had founded a church near Fang, he had seen an upswing in attacks on vampires. The church hid behind religious freedom, spewing hate-filled speeches about vampires, spreading lies, and picketing the clubs. Vampires had been staked in the name of human rights, and in a way, Mishka understood that. Having been alive for five hundred years, he’d been part of many wars where one species or another believed they were superior. But these humans were preying on the mates, going after the females the males held so dear. Only cowards attacked women.
“It would be helpful if the males would turn their mates,” Brone said.
Mishka shook his head. “I can’t ask that of them. Mates choose to turn and be turned at their discretion. Yes, it would make them safer, but they would still be vulnerable to the church’s attacks. Until they are stopped, I’m afraid that none of us are truly safe.”
Brone stood and glowered. “The coven is safe within the walls of the club. I have seen to it.”
“I know, old friend, but even you can’t prepare for everything. The church is a band of fanatical, misguided, dangerous people who are looking at every possible way of attacking us and driving us into extinction.”
Brone growled in his throat and left. Mishka exhaled slowly and closed his eyes. He had never turned a woman he loved, and neither had Brone, but he knew that it was the safest choice for a vampire’s mate. If Mishka ever found his mate, he would stop at nothing to see her safe, and he knew that Brone felt the same way.
So far, neither of them had found a woman worth dying for. But who knew what the night would bring?
Arissa Kensington stood behind the counter of The Cleveland Mother Earth Store and weighed fennel seeds on a small scale. She tipped the contents of the small bowl onto a square of blessed cotton and secured it into a pouch with a leather tie.
“You can leave dishes of fennel seeds around your home to banish negativity,” Arissa told the woman who had asked for the seeds and then told her how much she owed.
“I can use them for banishing spells, too?” the woman asked.
Arissa wrapped the pouch in plain paper and placed it inside a paper bag, handing it to the woman. “Of course.”
The woman took her change, gathered her package, and left the store. Arissa leaned on the worn, wooden counter and stared at the empty store. It was nearly closing time, but in her experience, people always walked through the front doors when the night was almost over.
“You’ll jinx us,” Lulu, one of the coven Wiccans, said, smiling. “A watched door always opens when you don’t want it to.”
“You should embroider that on a pillow,” she said with a laugh.
Arissa had been part of the Northern Ohio Wiccan coven for almost two months. She had transferred from a small coven in Indianapolis after being contacted by the North Corner, Lorene. Lorene had asked Arissa to join the coven because they had recently lost several coven members and were looking for natural Wiccans, or powerful unnatural Wiccans to join them. Arissa was a natural Wiccan with the ability to control the earth. In her small coven, she had been a corner. After one meeting with the enigmatic Lorene, Arissa had been ready to join them.
Lulu, who was an unnatural Wiccan with very little power, sprayed organic cleaning solution on the glass doors and wiped them with paper towels. “Do you miss being a corner?”
“Nah.” Arissa began to straighten the counter. “It’s draining to funnel power like a corner needs to, and it’s stressful to have people rely on you so heavily for their own power spikes. I like being part of the coven, but it’s nice to be on the outside of things.”
Lulu straightened and tossed the paper towels in a nearby trashcan. “I wish I was more powerful. You can teach classes and give advice and readings. I just get to do the menial stuff.”
Arissa had heard many women over the years complain about their lack of power, but what they failed to understand was that having power was not all rosebuds and rainbows. Arissa could control the power of the earth, which meant that until she had learned how to harness her powers as a teenager, she had spent many years causing earthquakes when she was emotional.
A natural witch, such as Arissa, was born to a full witch and inherited the powers of her family line. All the women in Arissa’s family could control the earth. Unnatural witches, like Lulu, had a family member somewhere in their history who was a full Wiccan but turned away from his or her power for one reason or another. As the power went untapped, future generations’ powers were diluted until there was very little, if any, real power left. Sometimes, like in the case of the East and West Corners of the Cleveland coven, unnatural witches could study and dedicate themselves to the craft and increase their power. Arissa suspected that Lulu, while she would like more power, wasn’t willing to work for it.
When she finished cleaning off the counter, Arissa unlocked the register and pulled out the cash drawer. Just as Lulu was about to flip the lock on the front door, she gasped and Arissa looked up. Two tall men wearing all black pushed open the doors. Lulu backed away quickly, joining Arissa behind the counter.
As Arissa prepared to cast a protection spell around herself and Lulu, an exceptionally beautiful man stepped through the open doors wearing an elegant suit, his golden-brown hair loose about his shoulders. Lulu made a squeaking sound, and Arissa looked at her in question, but the young girl’s eyes were glued to the man.
It took Arissa a moment to realize why he looked so familiar. He was Mishka, the head of the vampire coven.
After stepping around the counter, Arissa strode toward him. “My name is Arissa Kensington. Can I help you, Sir?”
Tilting his head slightly, he regarded her with gold eyes. She was tempted to fall into the depths of his eyes that seemed to whisper of dark promises, but her gaze strayed from his to an enormous man — broad and muscular with buzzed hair and dark eyes — standing just outside of the open doors. The big male looked angry, and the corner of his mouth curled up as if he smelled an odor he found unpleasant. And then his eyes locked onto Arissa’s and everything in the center of her body went hot and tight.
A buzzing sounded in her ears and she waved it away. A bug, she was sure. She stepped forward, bumping into something but not caring as she passed through the doors, only wanting to get closer to the huge man.
His mouth parted, and as he inhaled slowly, his eyes changed from midnight blue to brilliant purple.
A hand wrapped around her arm and spun her around. The big man snarled angrily, causing Mishka, who had grabbed her, to release his hold.
Mishka looked over her head. “We are here on business, Brone. You forget yourself.”
Brone growled, and the sound shivered down her spine.
Mishka said, “Now, Ms. Kensington, I have come to speak with Lorene.”
“She’s gone home for the evening, Mishka.”
“Then we’ll see her at her home.”
“But,” she said, turning around to find that Brone, her sexy giant, was gone. Mishka, and the other men with him, hurried into an oversize black SUV and sped out of the parking lot before she could even finish her sentence.
What had she wanted to say, anyway? Who are you? Can you come home with me? Do you look as good out of clothes as you do in them?
Shaking the lustful thoughts from her head, she turned around and walked back into the store, closing and locking the front door. She wasn’t one to believe in love at first sight, but her feelings for the stranger had felt pretty damn close. Not that she knew anything about vampires outside of what she had learned over the years.
“That was freaking strange!” Lulu said, visibly shaken as she stood rooted behind the counter.
“He’s never shown up like that before?”
“No. I don’t think he leaves his club too often. He lives at Fang; it’s a vamp bar downtown. We don’t dare go, though. Wiccan blood is very tempting to vampires, addicting even. Although I suppose that my blood isn’t all that strong with Wiccan power, but it’s probably better to err on the side of caution.”
“That big guy with him?” Arissa picked up the cash drawer and closed the register.
“That’s Brone. He used to fuck around with Lorene’s granddaughter, Elizabeth. So did Mishka, actually. But Brone is like some really old vamp assassin. Crazy dangerous.” She shivered as she spoke.
“What do you suppose the master of the Cleveland coven wants with the North Corner?” Arissa asked as Lulu followed her to the safe where she stored the cash drawer.
“Whatever it is, I don’t think it’s something good. Mishka didn’t look all that happy to be here.”
No, he didn’t. But Arissa was more interested in Brone. She couldn’t quite explain it, but she was sure that something important had passed between them. Maybe it was just a fanciful thought and not some deep, supernatural connection.
Brone couldn’t shake the image of the beautiful red-headed Wiccan, Arissa. He’d never been so singularly attracted to a female before, and he might have followed his instincts and slung her over his shoulder and headed for someplace private if Mishka hadn’t reminded him of his obligations.
Coven first. Delicious witch later.
Temple, one of Mishka’s private guards and a member of the coven’s inner circle known as the family, elbowed him. Brone glanced at Temple who inclined his head toward Mishka, who was seated on an embroidered couch in the sitting room of the North Corner’s home. Brone had not seen Lorene in years. The vampire coven had little dealings with the witches. Ages ago, vampires hunted witches for their rich blood, and the witches had a long memory.
Mishka had decided to approach the Wiccan coven for help against the growing anti-vampire movement spearheaded by the First Church of Humanity.
“It would be in both our peoples’ interests to form an alliance,” Mishka said to Lorene, who sat across from Mishka in a high-backed chair.
Lorene pursed her lips in thought. She was a powerful witch who could control the earth. “It’s been a long time since our people had an alliance, Mishka.”
Brone heard Mishka’s nearly inaudible growl. Of course Lorene would bring up the alliance between her granddaughter, Elizabeth, and Mishka. Brone had never had an alliance with Elizabeth; he had simply fed from her and enjoyed their time together for what it had been. He’d cared about her, but he had known from the beginning that she was not meant to be his. Mishka, on the other hand, had been quite taken with Elizabeth, and since she had married twin were-bears several years earlier, Mishka had never gotten involved with another witch. Brone suspected that it was only because he was truly worried about the coven that he had even considered asking the Wiccans for an alliance.
His thoughts drifted to Arissa. She was his mate. His beloved. He was certain of it. Which made him angry that he wasn’t with her right at this moment, finding out everything about her so he could take care of her properly.
“I’d like to offer a job within Fang to one of your Wiccans. It’s an office position and comes with a good salary and living and dining accommodations within the club. The job would last as long as the alliance. The vampires will stand with the Wiccans as allies and vice versa.”
Immediately Brone wondered if Arissa would be the one chosen, but then just as quickly, he decided it didn’t matter. She was his and he was going to be with her no matter whether she worked at the club or not. Of course, she was a modern female, and he knew that he couldn’t go around ordering her into his chamber, much as he would like to do so. He’d have to woo her. Something he hadn’t done in a thousand years.