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Chapter 1


Rylan Saintcrow stood at his wife's bedside, one of her icy cold hands clasped in both of his. Like so many of their kind, Kadie had been stricken by a mysterious plague. One day, she had been strong and healthy, with decades, perhaps centuries, ahead of her. The next, she had collapsed. He had given her as much of his blood as he could spare – ancient blood that had saved lives in the past – but it had had no effect on her. Three months she had lain there, unresponsive, not dead, not alive, but trapped in some endless never world like Sleeping Beauty.


Whatever the sickness was, it struck only vampires, most often females or fledgling males. Ancient vampires like himself seemed immune.


Unable to endure watching her another moment, he transported himself from his lair to the nearest city. Like a tiger on the hunt, he prowled the streets searching for prey, but it was Kadie who filled his thoughts. Would she be forever trapped in that deathlike sleep? Would she gradually waste away? Was she aware of her surroundings but unable to respond? Or was she trapped in some kind of coma from which she would never awaken?

The thought of existing without her, of never holding her in his arms again, never hearing her voice, seeing her smile….never making love to her again….was unimaginable.


Kadie. Years ago, her scent had roused him from where he rested deep in the earth. Back then, any human who wandered into Morgan Creek became prey for the coven of vampires who resided there under his protection so long as they abided by his law. The humans had been given housing, their needs provided for. But then Kadie had stumbled across the bridge and everything changed. She had made him realize the cruelty of keeping mortals imprisoned. To please her, he had turned them loose and sent the vampires away. For no reason that he could see, she had fallen in love with, had chosen to be what he was so that they could be together.


And now she lay in his lair, unmoving, unaware.


Dammit! Where the hell had this confounded plague come from? And why now? Had it been concocted in a lab with the intent to destroy his kind? Was it some cruel spell concocted by a black witch? Some freakish virus? And when it ran its course, what then? Would she recover? Or be lost to him forever?


He raked his fingers through his hair. He had survived for centuries, visited every country in the world at one time or another, and never seen anything like this cursed plague. Had nature suddenly decided to wipe vampires from the face of the earth?


He preyed on a young woman, wiped the memory from her mind, and moved on.


He was about to return to his lair in Morgan Creek when his old friend Jason Kincaid fell into step beside him. "How's Kadie?"


"Still the same," Saintcrow said. "Rosa?"


"No change. Dammit, what the hell's going on?"


"I wish I knew." Save for Kincaid, all the vampires Saintcrow considered family – Micah Ravenwood and his wife, Holly, Ethan and his wife, Sofia, Kincaid's wife, Rosa, and  his own Kadie -- had succumbed to the plague.


"It's spreading from city to city and country to country," Kincaid remarked. "Do you think some hunter is behind it?"


Saintcrow shrugged. "I don't know, but if I find out who's responsible, he'll wish he'd never been born."


Kincaid raked his fingers through his hair. "Dammit, it's tearing me apart, seeing Rosa like that and knowing I can't do a damn thing."


"Don't you think I know what you're going through?"


"What are we going to do?"


"Beats the hell out of me."


"I'm going back to Morgan Creek."


Saintcrow nodded. Between the two of them, they had moved those they considered family into the bedrooms in the big yellow house . Again, between the two of them, they had warded the town and the house on the hill against intruders – human and vampire alike.


Saintcrow's feeling of helplessness grew as he stalked the dark streets, growing ever stronger until he was filled with rage and the sudden desire to strike out. He hadn't taken a life in years but now the urge to kill rose up within him, and with it the desire to hurt as he was hurting, to destroy a life, to glut himself on the blood of some innocent victim.


It took only moments to find her, a middle-aged woman stepping out of a hotel. He pulled  her into his arms, let her see the hellfire in his eyes as he bared his fangs. She opened her mouth to scream but fear trapped the cry in her throat.


Reveling in his power, drinking her fear as he intended to drink her blood, he bent  his head to her neck.


"Stop it!"


Saintcrow's head snapped up. Holding fast to the woman, he snarled, "Get the hell out of here, Kincaid."


"Kadie wouldn't like it."


All the rage drained out of Saintcrow at the mention of her name. Trapping the woman's gaze with his, he wiped the memory of what had happened from her mind and sent her away. "What the hell are you doing here?"


"I could have sensed your anger if I'd been in Africa. It practically knocked me off my feet."


"Yeah, well." He shrugged. "Thanks."


"You gonna be all right now?"


Saintcrow nodded. "Come on, let's get out of here."


They materialized in The Crimson Rose.


"I can't take much more of this," Kincaid muttered, swirling the wine in his glass.


"I know. I've never seen anything like it. Hell, no one has. I've contacted a few of the ancient ones. They don't have any answers, either." He frowned. The one person he hadn't tried to contact was the vampire who had turned him. To his knowledge, she was the oldest of their kind. He hadn't seen his sire since she turned him centuries ago. He didn't even know her name, wouldn't have known how to get in touch with her if he wanted. For all he knew, she had been destroyed centuries ago.

"To hell with it," Kincaid muttered. "I'm going home."



Kincaid sat beside Rosa, his heart aching for the woman he loved above all else. They had been married a few months shy of three years. At her request, he had turned her on the first anniversary of their marriage. He had been reluctant to do so, afraid she would regret it, that she would hate him for it. But that had not happened. If anything, it had strengthened the bonds between them, intensified their love, and brought them even closer together.


And now she lay in their bed, as still as death, her face pale, her hand as cold as ice in his.  How long could she go on like this? Vampires often went to ground to rest when they tired of living, but in a dim part of their mind, they were still aware of the world around them, able to react at any sign of danger.


Was this nature's way of ridding the world of vampires? Impossible as it seemed, that was the only explanation that made sense. Even Izabela, powerful as she was, wouldn't have been able to conjure a spell of this magnitude.



Back in Morgan Creek, Saintcrow went down to his lair. His Kadie lay as he had left her, eyes closed, skin pale as death. He undressed, then slid into bed beside her, remembering the nights they had shared, the way she had always smiled when she saw him.


Murmuring that he loved her, he closed his eyes, eager to surrender to the dark sleep, to forget, for a while, that he might never again see her smile, hear her voice, make love to her until the sun chased the moon from the sky.


But the dark sleep eluded him. Where had this infernal plague come from? Was it some sort of virus that only affected young vampires? Had it been cooked up in a lab? He knew there were scientists doing experiments on vampires, analyzing their blood, trying to find out what there was about their blood that had the power to turn others, that allowed them to live such long lives, to change shape or dissolve into mist.


Perhaps some hunter had concocted it as a way to destroy the Undead.

Sitting up, he shook his head. If hunters were behind this, they wouldn't have wasted it on young vampires, but unleashed it on the old ones, like himself. Perhaps a very powerful witch had found a spell….And then he frowned.


Or a very powerful necromancer.


Rising, he pulled on a pair of jeans, a shirt, boots, and willed himself to Blair House. "Kincaid! Open the damn door."


"What the hell do you want?" Kincaid growled as he opened the door. "Do you know what time it is?"


"We need to go to Columbia."


"What? Why?"


"Luca had power over the dead."


"Yeah? So?"


"Just get dressed."



It took only minutes to transport themselves to Nevado del Ruiz volcano located in Colombia. "All right," Kincaid said. "What are we doing here?"

"I only know of only one person who could conjure a spell that would affect only vampires."


Kincaid stared at him. "Luca."


Saintcrow nodded.


Kincaid gestured at the foot of the volcano. "You warded the place where we buried him to repel anyone from digging him up. But it looks like someone did."


Saintcrow hissed an oath. The ground had been disturbed, but not by human hands. An earthquake, a minor eruption, something had disturbed the ground around the foot of the volcano. A small black box, neatly broken in half, peeked out from a small pile of earth. The same black box that  had once contained Luca's spirit.


"Where the hell do you think he is?" Kincaid asked, glancing around.


Saintcrow shook his head. "The more important question is, whose body is he now inhabiting and how the hell do we find it?"


"Damn," Kincaid muttered. "I thought we were done with this guy. How many times do we have to hunt him down?"


"At least once more."


"I think we need to go see Izabela."


Slapping Kincaid on the back, Saintcrow said, "One of us does, that's for sure. I'm off to Morgan Creek to keep an eye on our sleeping beauties. Which mans you're going to New Orleans. After all, she's your witch."


"She's not my witch," Kincaid muttered, but Saintcrow was already gone.