I was standing behind the bar of one of the city’s busiest nightclubs. The building sat high on top of a beautiful rolling hill with a complimenting view that overlooked the Pacific Ocean. I glanced through the glass doors, which opened automatically, to a spacious ocean-side terrace. There were no guests occupying the dozen or so tables that were lined up along the wood railing. Nobody wanted to risk getting wet from the rain, which was beating softly against the window and systematically filling the room with my favorite scent of ozone and spring floral. I loved the constant Oregon rains; they soothed me. Every table inside was packed full of people. It was open mic night at the bar, and Robby Stanton was up next. Rob, as he preferred to be called, was a self-proclaimed comedian extraordinaire, and he also happened to be a 500-year-old master vampire.
“How’s everyone doing tonight?”
He used the standard opening line. The vampire chuckled, making his overly large belly shake. Too bad he didn’t have the foresight to drop thirty pounds and invest in a weight set before being stuck in the same body for all of eternity. But who knew what body type was in fashion half a millennium ago? His robust stature could have been all the rage back then.
Robby pulled his pants up by the belt and wiped the sweat from his shiny bald head. “Before we start, let’s give the staff here at Haven a big round of applause!”
Everyone clapped and smiled for the wait staff. Being one of them, I looked up at the crowd and gave them a pleasant smile.
“You’re bleeding, Ember,” Nathan whispered over the dying applause. His face was serious.
“What?” My eyes dropped down. Damn it all to hell, my finger was sliced wide open.
At the smell of freshly spilt blood, Rob’s head whipped around, and with the eyes of a predator, he looked at me, and then at my cut, with hunger. Ignoring him, I swiped the contaminated limes into the trash and went to the sink to wash up. By the time the blood was rinsed away, my wound had healed. It was times like these that made me grateful to have an immortal’s healing ability. I pulled my long black hair from my face, twisting it up into a tight bun. Nathan walked towards me carrying a couple buckets of ice from the back room. The women at the bar, young and old, watched his every movement. To say that he had a rather large fan club would be a gross understatement.
We made quite a contrast behind the bar together with me being an average 5’5” tall to his 6’2”. He had short dark hair, with wispy curls that liked to flirt with the collar of his shirt. But what the ladies seemed to always swoon over were his large chestnut eyes.
Yup, I was witness to many a woman falling victim to his mesmerizing gaze. I seemed to be immune to his charms. Actually, I wasn’t the slightest bit interested in anyone. There was a reason for that, though. Until I found my heartmate, I would never feel love, lust, or even simple attraction to anyone.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t virginal or anything. There wasn’t a magical chastity belt wrapped around me, assuring that I be kept as pure as the driven snow. I’ve definitely had my share of lovers over the decades. But I’m lucky enough not to have that pesky urge of wanting a commitment. I was able to ‘love ‘em and leave ‘em,’ and that was fine by me.
In an instant, I felt the atmosphere in the room change. A strong sense of tension became palpable in the air around me. The hair on my arms stood on end, and my wolf began to stretch out and become more aware of her surroundings, a sure sign that trouble wasn’t far away. Nathan must have felt it, too, because he dropped the bucket he was carrying and cast a glance around the club.
“That lady over there by the pool table is looking pretty messed up. Maybe it’s time to call her a cab,” Nathan said.
I glanced across the bar at the drunken woman in the billiards room. She had two guys pawing and slobbering all over her. One had his hand shoved down her tight red halter-top, with his tongue plunging in and out of her mouth.
The larger man stood behind her, doing his best to casually guide them into the back room. It was a dark and private area that rarely saw any foot traffic, and was the perfect spot for a couple of scumbag werewolves to take advantage of the unsuspecting human.
“Do you want to take this one, or should I?” Nathan asked me as he cut up the last of the limes.
“I’ll handle it.” I did a quick scan of the bar. Everyone seemed to be content. “Cover for me. This shouldn’t take long.”
I gave him a wink and hopped over the bar just in time to watch the door to the back room swing shut. I hurried between the tables that were filled with laughing vampires and werewolves. Not even one of them paid any attention to me. I thought it a little odd, considering most of their drinks were empty, and vampires usually kept their glasses full of blood. We stored a generous amount of it in the back for them. The blood was mixed with tomato juice, and sometimes in the bottles of liquor, to hide it from any human customers who may venture in.
Before I could take more than a few steps towards the poolroom, I was stopped in my tracks by a voice that seemed to carry over the wind. “Ember.”
I turned my head and saw Rob, the vampire, staring straight at me. His mouth moved with purpose, each word pleasing to the crowd, but his eyes held fast on me. I couldn’t look away. My shoes felt like they were filled with cement, making it impossible to move. He was using the power of influence on me. Only a few vampires in the world were gifted with that ability, me being one of them, but to a lesser degree. It explained why he could so effortlessly hold the interests of the crowd when he performed. It also explained why the vampires weren’t yelling at me for refills. I should have known. Robby wasn’t that funny.
I pushed back at him with my own power, which took him by surprise, making his words stumble out. He laughed the mistake off, like the seasoned professional he was, and doubled his efforts to roll my mind.
What he didn’t know—what few people actually knew—was that I wasn’t only a werewolf. Thanks to a curse that plagued my family for the last two centuries, I was part vampire, as well. Rob’s lip twitched slightly in annoyance over the fact that I wasn’t so easily commanded, and he shot one more furious push through me. That time, his power took hold, rolling my mind over like a stray ball dancing its way down a steep hill.
The room disappeared, and I found myself lounging on a deserted beach. In the real world, my body would be left standing in place, stuck on autopilot. It would follow through with any lingering commands left unfinished in my brain, and then subsequently follow, by stored memory, all normal functions after that.
The jeans and t-shirt I’d been wearing were gone. In their place was a tiny red bikini. My breasts spilled out over the elastic material that barely covered my nipples, and for fuck’s sake, a thin string ran straight up my ass.
My hair was no longer pulled up in a bun. It flowed freely down my back, swaying in the breeze, tickling my waist. I sat up straight and wrapped my fingers around a rather large diamond necklace, and with a firm tug, I broke the strand and tossed it to the ground. I couldn’t stand anything around my neck. I was a wolf, and as such, I wasn’t meant to be put on a leash, even by something as non-threatening as that.
Swishing beats of clear blue water filled my ears, crashing up against a shore composed of uncountable grains of crystal sand. The unnatural particles sparkled in the sunlight, making me squint.
“Do you like the world I built for you?”
I turned at the sound of Rob’s voice behind me, but all I could see were miles, upon miles, of glistening trees. All of a sudden, a sharp pain pierced my head, and I had to brace myself to keep from falling to my knees. I rested my hand against a clear trunk made of amber. The tree was cool and smooth. I tried to use my own power to draw my essence back to my real body at Haven, but the magic was inaccessible. It felt as if it were neatly packed in a little box and put away on a dusty shelf, stored in the recesses of my mind.
“What kind of creature are you, my savage beauty?” the master vampire asked.
I pushed myself away from the tree hard, and it shook. Emerald leaves drifted to the ground. The gems made tinkling sounds as they landed at my feet.
“You brought me here to ask me that? I’m a werewolf, asshole!” My words came out with a ferocious growl. “Put me back into my body now, or I’ll rip out your throat!”
Laughter rocked Rob’s imaginary world, bringing with it a pain that plunged deeper inside my skull. I covered my ears and squeezed my eyes shut. I focused hard and latched onto a dull spark of my power that winked at the end of a long tunnel in my mind. I set my inner wolf loose to chase it down.
“In due time, and only after you tell me the truth about who and what you are, I’ll release you. Until then, you will remain here with me.”
“I am one of the cursed,” I managed to say over the pressure building inside of me. I watched as my wolf trotted back down the same tunnel she fled down. I smiled a wicked grin; she was glowing bright with power. Rob was in for a big surprise.
I remained docile while a phantom hand brushed against my stomach, and held back a shiver of revulsion as it traveled up and over my breast.
“I have met other wolves like you before, even dined on one or two, but you smell different from them. Your blood holds more life. It draws me to you and makes me want to pierce your sweet flesh. And sink my cock deep between your legs at the same time.” His body shivered from the thought.
Hell, the vampire moved on from bat shit crazy, to being downright masochistic in a blink of an eye. I growled, low and rumbly. “Not a chance, necro-scum.”
I latched onto my power source—my wolf—for a final draw of power. The grey wolf crumpled to the ground, all her energy drained, while I used our combined power to take back the use of my own body. Light spilled forth, and I relaxed my muscles in anticipation of the change. It was a natural rhythm that filled me with joy as my body shifted from human form to beast.
When my eyes opened, I was no longer trapped in Robby’s gem-encrusted world. I had awoken to find myself perched on top of a whimpering brown werewolf. The taste of copper filled my senses, and blood spilled in red, glistening sheets from the corners of my maw.
The wolf underneath me howled in pain. Confused, I pulled my fangs from the scruff of his neck and leapt away. I’d returned to my body just in time to witness the aftermath of a gruesome battle between the wolves from earlier and myself. I was relieved to see, however, that I had apparently won. The wounded wolves scrambled to their feet, and without a second look, shot off down the alley.
Official website for New York Times & USA Today Best Selling Paranormal and Urban fantasy author Gena D. Lutz.