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 Chapter 1


Morgan Creek, Wyoming


Rylan Saintcrow stood at his wife's bedside, one of her icy cold hands clasped in both of his. Like so many of the young vampires in Wyoming, 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. For the last three months she had lain there, unresponsive, not dead, not alive, but trapped in  some endless netherworld like Sleeping Beauty.


Whatever the malady was, it struck only young vampires. As far as he knew, ancient vampires like himself appeared to be immune. Curiously, it had infected only those who resided in the state of Wyoming. Would it eventually spread to other states? Other countries? Who the hell knew?


Unable to endure watching Kadie laying there another moment, he transported himself from his lair to the nearest city. Like a tiger on the hunt, he prowled the moonlit 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 a preternatural 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 had resided there under his protection as long as they abided by his law. The humans had been given housing, their physical needs provided for. But then Kadie had stumbled across the bridge and everything had 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 fathom, she had fallen in love with him, had chosen to be what he was so that they could be together forever. And now she lay in his lair, unmoving, unaware.


Saintcrow 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. Dammit! Where the hell had this confounded plague or curse or whatever the hell it was come from? And why now? Was it some freakish virus? Had capricious Nature suddenly decided to wipe vampires from the face of the earth? Impossible as it seemed, that was the only explanation that made sense. And yet, it seemed unlikely, since the curse seemed to be limited to Wyoming And when it ran its course, what then? Would Kadie recover? Or be lost to him forever?



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 long-time friend, Jason Kincaid, fell into step beside him. Jake wore jeans, boots, and a gray t-shirt that depicted a cowgirl on a bucking bronco. The caption read Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy, barely visible beneath a black leather jacket. Once a cowboy, always a cowboy, Saintcrow mused with a grin.


"How's Kadie?" he asked.


"Still the same," Saintcrow replied.


 "Rosa keeks asking me when she can come home."


"Probably not a good idea right now." A couple of years ago, Kincaid had turned Rosa on their first wedding anniversary, at her request.


"That's what I keep telling her." Jake shook his head. "I wish now I'd waited before bringing her across. Damm."


Saintcrow nodded. Kincaid and Rosa lived full-time in Morgan Creek. Rosa's older sister, Sofia her husband, Ethan, and their adopted daughter, Jenny, had resided in Morgan Creek until Sofia had insisted on moving to Arizona, so Jenny could go to public school and hang out with other kids her age. But they spent their summers in Morgan Creek. It had been Ethan's idea to renovate the town, and a damned good one, as it turned out.


Micah Ravenwood and his wife, Holly, had moved to Arizona years ago so Micah could be close to his parents. The Ravenwoods – Luciano and Lena and their children, Angela, Delia, Rosa, Sofia, Sergio, Enzo, Mario, Paolo, and Micah -  were a tight-knit family. Those who were vampires spent their summers in Morgan Creek.The weekend before the curse hit, the Ravenwood clan had all gone to Arizona for The annual family reunion. He wished to hell Kadie had gone with them this time.  "Dammit, I wish I knew what the devil was going on."


"Funny that only Wyoming is affected," Kincaid remarked.




"Do you think some local hunter is behind this?"


Saintcrow shrugged. "It's crossed my mind a time or two."


Kincaid raked his fingers through his hair. "I wish there was something we could do."


"Yeah, me, too. Dammit, I'm not sure how much longer Kadie can survive in her current state."



"Don't give up. She's strong. If any of them can survive this thing, she can."


"I hope to hell you're right."


"I'm always right. She's got your blood running through her veins. You can't do better than that," Kincaid said, slapping Saintcrow on the back. "I'll be in touch."



 Saintcrow nodded. Kadie had to survive. She had changed his whole world, made life worth living. His jaw clenched as he thought of her now, lying in his basement lair.His feelings of despair and helplessness grew as he stalked the dark streets, growing ever

stronger until he was overcome with rage and the sudden need 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 yanked 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, "Jake! What the hell are you doing here?"


"Keeping you from making a bad mistake. Kadie would be horrified if she could see you now."


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 are you doing here?" he asked again. "I thought you went back to Arizona."


"I never made it. I could have sensed your rage if I'd been in Africa. It practically knocked me off my feet."


"Yeah, well." Saintcrow shrugged. "Thanks."


"You gonna be all right now?"


Saintcrow nodded. "Come on, let's go have a drink."


They materialized in The Crimson Rose. A few years ago, Saintcrow had arranged for Kincaid to meet Rosa here. She had wanted to become a vampire and Saintcrow's idea had been for her to meet Kincaid and for Kincaid to scare the idea out of her mind. It hadn't worked. They'd fallen in love and gotten married instead.


"There's got to be a way to end this," Kincaid muttered, swirling the wine they had ordered in his glass.


"I wish I knew what we were dealing with," Saintcrow said. "I've lived a long time and I've never seen anything like this. Hell, no one has. I've contacted a few of the ancient ones. They don't have any answers, either."


"Well, it came from somewhere," Kincaid said. "Just because no one's ever heard of it doesn't mean it's never been seen before."


Saintcrow frowned. The one person he hadn't tried to contact was the vampire who had made him. To his knowledge, she was one of the oldest of their kind. He hadn't seen his sire since she turned him centuries ago. In all that time, she had never tried to contact him, nor he, her. He didn't have any idea if it was possible to get in touch with her, didn't even know her name. For all he knew, she could have been destroyed centuries ago.


"We're not solving anything sitting here." Saintcrow blew out a sigh. "Go home and make love to your wife," he said. And wished he could do the same.




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, the way she had melted in his arms. 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.


But the dark sleep eluded him. Instead, his thoughts went round and round. The plague had to  have originated somewhere. But where? Had it been cooked up in a lab? He knew there were scientists all over the world doing experiments on vampires, dissecting them, measuring their hearts and brains, 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 and dissolve into mist. Vampire blood could cure disease and slow the aging process.


Sitting up, he stared into the darkness of his lair. Hunters were another possibility but he dismissed the thought. If hunters were behind this, they wouldn't have wasted it on young vampires, but unleashed it on the old ones, like himself, who were far more dangerous and harder to destroy. He thought it unlikely that even the black witch, Izabela, powerful as she was, would have been able to conjure a spell of this magnitude.


But what about a very powerful necromancer?


 Rising, he pulled on a pair of jeans, a shirt, and boots, and then called Kincaid.


"What the hell do you want?" Jake growled. "Do you know what time it is?"


"We need to go to Colombia."


"What? Why?"


"Luca had power over the dead."


"Yeah? So?"


"It would explain why the curse only affects those in Wyoming."


"You think he was trying to avenge himself on us?" Kincaid asked, a frown in his voice.


"It's the only answer that makes any  sense."


"I'll be at your place in ten."




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


"I know of only one person who would want to conjure a spell that would affect only vampires," Saintcrow remarked.


Kincaid stared at him. "But how could Luca be behind this? His spirit is trapped in a box. He's as good as dead."


"Is he?" Saintcrow gestured at the foot of the volcano. The ground had been disturbed, but not by human hands. An earthquake, a minor eruption, something major had disturbed the ground around the base 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 the necromancer's spirit.


"Well, hell. Where do you think he's gone?" Kincaid asked, running his fingertips over the  thick gold band he wore on his wrist. He'd had it made years ago to prevent Luca from detecting his whereabouts.


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


"Damn, damn, 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." Saintcrow stared at the black box, then picked up the pieces He grimaced as a faint trace of dark magic skittered across his skin.


"I think we need to go see Izabela," Kincaid remarked, sounding none too happy about it.


 "One of us does, that's for sure. Take this with you," Saintcrow said, handing him the soul catcher. "After all, she's your witch. If she has any ideas, let me know and I'll be there."


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