Four more days until Quinn Lennox’s life, as she knew it, was over.
Quinn paced the lamplit living room of her apartment on the George Washington University—GW—campus, pulling the gun from the small of her back, dry-cocking, aiming, releasing. The magazine, filled with alternating wooden and real bullets, sat snuggly in her back pocket, ready to be slammed home at a moment’s notice.
In truth, her normal life, if her life had ever been normal, had ended a month ago, when she and her brother Zack stumbled through a crack in the world and found themselves fighting for their lives in the dark vampire otherworld that, impossibly, shared physical space with much of Washington, D.C., and had for 140 years.
Washington, V.C., the vampires called it. Vamp City.
God help her, how was it possible there were vampires and werewolves and sorcerers?
She picked up her water glass, downed it, then continued to pace, continued to practice drawing the gun she’d bought last week. Because two things were going to happen on the equinox in four days, if not before.
One: The immortal son of the sorcerer who’d created Vamp City would renew the crumbling magic, releasing Zack from the grip of the magical illness that had him nearly bedridden. She hoped.
And two: The vampires now trapped by the magic’s failure would once more be free to travel between worlds as they pleased, and the vampire master, and sadistic monster, Cristoff, would almost certainly send his goons after her. She’d escaped him twice now. She’d never escape him a third time, not if he caught her again.
Which meant he couldn’t catch her.
Unfortunately, hopping on the next flight for the other side of the world wasn’t on her list of options. Not yet. Arturo had warned her that she and Zack might have become infected by Vamp City’s failing magic and might fall ill if they left the area before it was renewed. For once, that vampire had told her the truth.
Against her wishes, Zack had allowed his parents—Quinn’s dad and stepmom—to sweep him home to Pennsylvania. After a couple of days, Quinn had managed to convince him to return to D.C., but by then it had been too late. He’d already started to sicken in a wholly unnatural way. Magically sicken. There was nothing she could do but hope that Vamp City’s renewal would heal him. And if it didn’t?
Her stomach cramped, her jaw clenched as her grip tightened on her gun. She’d have no choice but to breach the gates into that world again and to try to enlist the aid, once more, of the vampire who haunted both her dreams and her nightmares. Arturo Mazza.
Hopefully, it wouldn’t come to that. The last thing . . . the last thing she wanted to do was return to that vampire hell.
To the vampires, of course, Vamp City was utopia—a city where the sun never shone, where they could enslave and hunt humans without fear of retribution. A place where the vampires, werewolves, and other immortal creatures could live their lives in the open. In freedom.
But even utopias have a dark side, and Phineas Blackstone, the powerful wizard the vampires had paid to create their dark city, had engineered a brilliant one—a death trap finally sprung two years ago. The moment the magic began to fail, all vampires within the city’s boundaries had become instantly caught, unable to escape. Soon, the sunbeams from the real world had begun to break through—slowly, at first, then more and more frequently until it became clear that their world was dying. And with it, every soul trapped within—vampire, werewolf, and immortal human alike.
Only by renewing Vamp City’s magic would they be saved. And the only one who could renew it was another sorcerer, a strong one. Both of Phineas Blackstone’s immortal sons had tried and failed.
Two years later, a month ago, as the situation neared critical, Quinn stumbled into that world. And they believed she was the one they’d been waiting for.
The sound of a car horn blared on the street outside her apartment, making Quinn’s hand jerk as she aimed at Zack’s computer monitor and pretended to fire. She’d always known she was different, but never in a million years had she dreamed she was an honest-to-goodness sorceress. It still didn’t seem real. Yes, weird things happened around her sometimes, but she didn’t have any real power. A little, maybe. Power she couldn’t call when she needed it and that she couldn’t control when it did decide to appear. Which was worse than not having any at all.
Cristoff had forced her to try to renew the magic, and she’d failed. But later, Arturo had seen her eyes glow—the sign of serious power, he said. He told her she had the power to save them, yet he’d helped her escape his master, Cristoff, and set her free, claiming that Phineas Blackstone’s immortal sons would ultimately find a way to renew the magic.
None of that made a lot of sense. And if there was one thing she knew, it was that Arturo played fast and loose with the truth. He was a first-class manipulator. But he’d also become her protector and, in a strange sort of way, her friend. And her lover. He’d developed feelings for her, she was sure of it, as she had for him, as much as she hated to admit it. Despite his faults, and they were legion, she’d seen goodness inside that male.
In the end, he’d saved Zack from certain death, then stolen her from his master’s dungeon and set them both free. An unlikely heroic, altruistic sacrifice for a vampire who’d betrayed her twice.
From the moment he set her free, part of her had been waiting for the other shoe to drop. Hence the gun, the wooden stakes she’d taken to carving, and the switchblade she’s taken to carrying. She and Zack were free and safe, and she intended to keep them that way. They weren’t going back there. If Vamp City imploded, taking its sadistic vampires with it, all the better.
But even as she thought that, she knew she didn’t really want Arturo dead.
Shoving her gun into her waistband, Quinn crossed to the window and pushed open the lower half of the double-hung, enjoying the brush of cool September air over her skin. Across the narrow street stood one of the GW dorms, half the windows lit like the spots on a domino, the other half dark, the students still out and about campus despite the fact that the sun had set more than an hour ago.
Zack and his best friend Lily, both GW seniors, should have been out there with them, though more than likely they’d have been right here, side by side in front of their computers either playing some high-action fantasy shoot-’em-up or designing one. But Lily had disappeared, as so many people around D.C. had in recent months. Quinn suspected she’d fallen through the same door into Vamp City that she and Zack had as they’d searched for her; but they’d never found her.
Lily was most likely dead. Humans didn’t last long among the vampires. And Zack . . . poor Zack was suffering not only from the magic sickness but from grief and depression as well. Her sweet, easygoing brother had not emerged from Hell unscathed.
Quinn straightened, hoping her neighbor, Mike, would come over as he did most evenings and give her something to think about other than vampires and lost friends, and something to listen to other than the ticking clock. In his company, she could pretend, if only for an hour or two, that she lived a normal life in a normal world. Even if nothing could be further from the truth.
But as she turned from the window, a familiar chill skated over her skin—a feeling she knew presaged the bleeding together of the two worlds. Those in Vamp City would feel the bleed-through as an earthquake. During the day, the quake would be quickly followed by sunbeams bursting overhead like light through a dark piece of hole-riddled construction paper. The vampires would flee the sunlight, or die if they were unlucky enough to be standing in the wrong place when the sunbeams appeared.
But in the real world, Quinn alone felt the change, thanks to her sorcerer’s blood. She alone could see through the shadowy breaks like windows into the other world. And since one of those breaks stood in front of her apartment, just outside her window, she turned back and bent low, unable to resist another glimpse of that world.
Created in 1870, a doppelganger of Washington, D.C., at that time, it was a world without streetlights or paved roads or electricity except in those few homes that had been hooked up to generators. She stared at the deserted, moonlit street and the line of crumbling row houses in a section of Vamp City that she knew to be largely uninhabited.
The street in that otherworld appeared deserted tonight. She heard no sounds but those of the real world, which continued to carry to her ears—a car driving down the street, the tick of the clock, the banter of college kids walking along the sidewalk below her window, discussing their fantasy-football picks.
Out of nowhere, a young man in shorts and a T-shirt stumbled into the dark Vamp City street, falling to his hands and knees in the dirt. Quinn gasped. One of the fantasy-football kids must have slipped between the worlds as he’d passed through the break. Every day, thousands passed through unaware and unaffected, but every now and again, one slipped through. As Lily probably had. As she and Zack definitely had.
While the kid struggled to his feet, Quinn heard his friends’ voices below, shouting for him from the real world. Shouts the kid would never hear. Only she could hear both worlds at once when they bled into one another like this.
She watched as the young man leaped to his feet, staring around him in stunned silence, his body language projecting disbelief, shock, and slowly dawning terror. Her heart ached for him because she’d been in his shoes just a few weeks ago. And she knew what he’d soon learn—that he had every right to be afraid.
His friends would tell the cops that he’d been right there, then just wasn’t—the same story reported over and over again on the news from others who’d been with one of the missing. But the cops wouldn’t find him. They didn’t have a clue what was going on. And they couldn’t do anything about it even if they knew.
Her breath caught. She might be able to save him if she hurried, if she raced into that world and snatched him back out before the break closed.
Before she could question the wisdom, she was racing for her front door. Thanks to her sorcerer’s blood, she alone could travel both ways through a sunbeam. She’d escaped that way once before. And she’d helped others do the same.
As she dashed down the hall and into the stairwell, her logical mind began to question the wisdom of this action. The breaks were unpredictable, some lasting close to an hour, others only a minute or two. If she ran into that world to save the kid, and the break closed before she got out again, she’d be stuck, unable to return to Zack until and unless she could make her way out through another break. And Zack needed her.
But she couldn’t just leave the kid there. Not if she could help him.
She ran through the lobby. By the time she reached the doors to the street, her heart was pounding, sweat beading on her brow. She pushed open the glass door, just feet from where the break began and the magic would suck her in. In that dark column, she saw the Vamp City world and watched with dismay as two horses and their riders circled the kid. She gasped as one of the riders threw a lasso, roping the young man like a steer.
Fury ignited inside her. But caution and experience held her back because she recognized the overlarge heads and ears of the riders and knew them to be inhuman Traders with inhuman strength.
Yes, she was armed and dangerous, but with only a week’s worth of target practice under her belt, she was probably more dangerous to the kid and the horses than to the Traders. Her chances of taking on two Traders and winning were slim to none. Even as the thought settled, two more Traders rode up to join the first pair. If it were Zack, she’d go anyway, no question, even if it meant getting caught herself and delivered to Cristoff. But Zack was upstairs. And he needed her.
As she watched helplessly, the Trader with the rope hauled the kid onto the back of his horse. The kid’s cry for help ceased abruptly as the break between the worlds closed as suddenly as it had opened, leaving Quinn staring once more at the modern D.C. street and the small crowd that had begun to gather around the friends of the missing boy.
Quinn backed away from the door, pressing a shaking hand against her now-pounding forehead. She felt sick that she hadn’t been able to help him, that she’d had no chance of getting him out of there for all her supposed sorcerer’s power. Turning toward the elevator, she made her way back to her apartment, her skin ice-cold, because she knew what awaited him. She’d been in that world twice and wouldn’t have survived either trip if not for Arturo’s intervention.
Once more in her apartment, she sank onto her sofa, dropping her head back, feeling the frustration and defeat press down on her. Vamp City needed to die. Unfortunately, the Traders weren’t tied to Vamp City and would probably survive the destruction. And there was no telling how many vampires lived in the real world. V.C.’s demise wouldn’t eradicate all the vampires in the world, not by a long shot.
And she wasn’t sure she wanted it to. Arturo . . . She shook her head, her feelings for the male so conflicted. From the moment she’d stumbled into that world, he’d been, in turns, her captor and protector, her lover and betrayer. And in the end, her savior. He’d gotten past her defenses as no one else ever had, partly because she’d had no way to avoid him. And partly because he’d understood her as no one else did. He was the only one in her life who’d known exactly who and what she was, right from the beginning, and accepted her anyway. She missed that. Despite everything, she missed him.
A low rap sounded on her apartment door, a quick-tap knock she recognized as Mike’s. With relief, she headed for the door, glad for the promise of company and the illusion, however fleeting, of normalcy.
As she peered out the peephole into Mike’s smiling face, a sense of calm settled over her, a calm she hadn’t felt all day. The tense misery of the past minutes eased out of her shoulders as she unhooked the chain and twisted the dead bolt to let him in. Mike had moved into the apartment across the hall a few weeks ago, while she was caught in Vamp City. She’d met him the first evening she got back and he’d pushed right past her usual reserve to become a welcome, undemanding friend. A writer, he lived alone, working from home. He’d taken to bringing over a bottle of wine about this time every night. She, in turn, always had dessert ready and waiting.