It’s a desperate time for rookie vampire Alyssa, and her sanity is hanging by a slender thread. Her clan is still reeling from the monumental battle with Aniketos; a battle that claimed the body of Lysander, her sire and lover, and trapped his spirit in a mysterious crystal. A Soulstone.
Unfortunately, no amount of magic has been able to release Lysander’s spirit, and the stone is starting to fade. Weeks of effort have proved futile. Her clan, the Peregrinus, have all but given up hope. Only Alyssa still believes her lover can be released. In despair, Alyssa begs the help of the local witch coven, and unwittingly exposes the supernaturals of Boston to unwanted attention from the Acta Sanctorum.
The Saints converge on the city and begin their cleansing crusade to rid the world of all things “Unnatural.” In the middle of an all-out war, but no closer to a solution to the dying stone, Alyssa is left with an unenviable choice: save her mate, or save her clan.
Copyright © 2012 by Katie Salidas
Down the creaky steps I walked, alone, heading for the basement.
Visiting Lysander had become my nightly ritual. I’d wake up in my bed, reach out to the empty sheets, and feel nothing but crushing emptiness. It’s hard to believe that the absence of someone can bear such a heavy weight on one’s soul, but it does. That’s when realization would hit me, and I’d relive that terrible memory of seeing Lysander, my love, my mate, dive into the flames.
Only after coming downstairs to the dark, dungeon-like basement, would I feel better.
I took a deep breath and stepped down onto the cold concrete floor. To my already tepid skin, the ground felt icy. Winter’s chill had frozen everything, and the basement was no real shelter from the cold. I probably should have worn something more than socks, but in my desperation to see him, I’d ignored basic necessities. I shook off the chill working its way up my spine and continued on.
“Good evening sweetie.” I said it as if he could hear me.
His spirit could, I guess, but Lysander had no voice with which to respond. Still, it made me feel better to talk to him as if he were alive and in front of me.
“It’s snowing outside. It’s Boston is a winter wonderland. Zuri took us shopping for coats and boots.” Lysander had lived the last fifty years in Las Vegas. I had grown up there, before becoming a vampire. So for desert rats such as us, snow was as infrequent as rain, which made them special. Now that we were on the east coast, both were very common but neither had lost their beauty, at least to me they hadn’t. “I wish you could see it, honey. It’s just gorgeous out there. Everything’s covered in white.”
No response, as always. Not that I had really expected one. Hoped for, yes. But, at this rate, my hope was beginning to wear thin.
Too much time had passed since he’d been trapped inside the crystal that now served as his prison. The fragile hope I held of saving him was almost gone. I grew restless for a resolution. His spirit felt weaker. The warmth of his presence was almost … transparent.
Ariana, our resident witch, had not yet come up with a solution. She’d managed an impressive feat, trapping Aniketos back into the Pandora’s Box. But because she’d used her own spells instead of the original ones from the old scrolls, Lysander had been trapped too. His spirit now resided in a large blood-red crystal.
She’d said her coven might be able to help; however, weeks later, we still had no resolution. Others in the house had already given up. I could feel it in the way they avoided any talk of Lysander or the crystal. They’d always find a way to change the subject. A few times, I had the sneaking suspicion that they were purposefully avoiding me so as not to have to talk about it.
I reached up and pulled the chain, flicking on the overhead light. The basement was small and bare. Brownstones in the Back Bay area of Boston were built tall, not wide, so the basement didn’t take up much square footage. Lysander’s coffin sat in the middle. Just a plain pine box that reminded me of ones from the old westerns I’d watched as a kid. It had been quickly constructed, and wasn’t a showpiece. Just a simple, almost flimsy box, only meant to hold Lysander until we could find some way to release his spirit.
Seeing it there, sitting all alone in the cold dark room, caused my heart to seize. Each time I set eyes on the coffin, for a brief moment, my world crumbled into dust—like everything important had been destroyed, except the reminder of the act that put him in this coffin.
It The coffin had been quickly constructed, and wasn’t a show piece. Just a simple, almost flimsy box, only meant to hold Lysander until we could find some way to release his spirit. For as long as he’d been lying there, I hoped he was comfortable. Part of me felt guilty, like the others and I should have gotten him something a little nicer to sleep in. That thought too made the permanence of death seem more real. A tear welled up in my eye, and I wiped it away.
The pine box is fine. He won’t be in it much longer.
I pushed aside the lid and leaned it against the side of the box. Inside, Lysander lay, looking as if he were sleeping off his terrible injuries.
Where his body wasn’t scabbed or bruised, the skin appeared ashen in color and almost plastic-looking, as if not really skin at all, but a sort of waxy coating. I shivered at the gruesome sight. He’d been so beautiful before the fire charred him. His once-gorgeous chocolate-colored hair had been singed away in the blaze, leaving only a few patches here and there to remind me of its original color. The tips of his fangs poked down from behind dry, parched lips. I’d tried to give him blood, hoping it might restore him, but it hadn’t had any effect. His body was frozen in the moment his spirit had left it.
The fire had almost destroyed him before his spirit had been caught. Ariana had suggested to me that Lysander had already died and his spirit was moving on when she trapped him. She told me that if we freed it from the crystal, he might not return to his body.
I wasn’t ready to accept that. I could still feel his presence, though weak, emanating from the large soda bottle-sized crystal. Whether in his body or not, his spirit was still with us. That had to count for something. He was still here with us and alive, for all intents and purposes. And until we knew otherwise, I did not want to hear talk of him “moving on.”
I hoped and prayed to every deity out there that when Ariana did find the answer, Lysander could be returned to his body. Even if he remained charred and burned, I’d still love him. I didn’t want to face eternity without him.
I’d placed the crystal on his chest and folded his arms across it. There it had rested for the last two weeks while I tried to find answers. I hoped keeping the two together like this would help in some small way.
“Alyssa the widow is back to mourn again,” said an overly chipper voice from the top of the stairs. “Shouldn’t you be wearing black?”
I craned my head to look up and found Ian standing at the top of the stairs. As usual he was dressed for a night out: raven-black hair slicked back with just a few strands framing his face, skin-tight t-shirt and tight-legged jeans to ensure nothing was left to the imagination, and topped off with a leather coat. I often wondered if he had been a greaser before being turned. He certainly looked the part.
“Widow implies death, Ian,” I said with as much snark as I could put into my mournful voice.
“Widow also implies… available.” Ian beamed down with his thousand-watt smile. “I’ve had enough of this moping. You’re coming out with me tonight.” He took the stairs at a trot.
“No, thanks. I don’t need to hunt tonight.” I looked down at Lysander again. “You have to come back, honey. Look what you’re leaving me with.”
“I’m not taking no for an answer.” Ian’s breath blew across my ear. I felt the closeness of his body almost pressing against my back. “And I prefer to be the one on the hunt.”
I jumped in response, and my head collided with his. “Ugh. Ian! Stop it. I’m not one of your waitresses or barmaids. Leave me alone.” A spike of pain radiated through my skull. I could only hope I’d done more damage to Ian. The nerve of him, hitting on me in front of Lysander.
“No, you’re not. Which makes the hunt all that much more fun for me. Tricky little prey, aren’t you, Alyssa?” If I had injured him, he didn’t show it. In fact, whatever pain I’d caused him, he might have even liked.
I groaned in frustration and rubbed the sore spot on the back of my head.
“Oh, c’mon. Try me. You just might like it.” He winked.
I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. “I don’t want to try anyone, especially not a sleazy vampire that’ll sleep with anything that breathes.”
“Not fair. I didn’t sleep with your human friend, Fallon.”
“That’s ’cause she’s with Aiden.”
Ian grimaced for a brief second before his smile returned. “She’s off limits.”
“And so am I.”
“Just come out and have fun.”
“Fun for you is getting in the sack.”
“Look, you might see me as sleazy. I prefer the term ‘promiscuous’; it has a nicer ring to it. But the bottom line is, at least I’m out there living life, not moping around in some dingy cellar, waiting for a man who’ll never return.” His typically cheerful tone had all but vanished. “I’m trying to help you.”
It was the first time I had ever seen Ian serious. Beyond that, he almost looked angry. His blue-gray eyes narrowed on me and his lip curled ever so slightly. “You have to know when to give up.” He inclined his head toward the coffin. “Let a lost cause go.”
I stared at him while anger and grief fought each other to be the dominant emotion inside me. My jaw quivered. I mashed my teeth together so it wouldn’t show.
“Lost cause? Lysander’s not a lost cause.” My eyes watered. I blinked and turned away. I didn’t want to melt down again. I didn’t want anyone seeing me like this.
“Look, I’m sorry I hurt your feelings,” Ian said, softening his tone. He smiled at me, but it didn’t have its usual brilliance.
“You don’t know what this feels like. To know that your mate is here, lying as if dead. But I feel him. I know he hasn’t gone yet. Yes, Ian. I can feel his spirit. Right here.”
I picked the crystal up, off Lysander’s chest, and held it for Ian to see. “He’s not dead and gone. I know you can’t feel it, but I can. That’s what makes this so difficult.”
“I get it. You’ve been so maudlin lately. I’m just trying to lighten things up. Put a smile on that pouty face.”
I huffed. There was no getting through to that man. How could I expect him to understand the loss of a mate? He was the pathological playboy of the immortal world. Sex was his answer for all life’s problems.
“I’m sorry. Let’s try this again.” Ian’s wide eyes suddenly narrowed on the crystal. “Hey, didn’t that used to be all red?”
“What?” I pulled it closer to inspect. When Lysander had been trapped, the crystal had gone from completely transparent to a deep red color, as if it were made from blood itself. To my surprise now, the tip had turned clear.
“What does this mean?” I mumbled more to myself than to Ian.
“Good news, probably. Maybe the longer you keep that thing on Lysander’s chest, the more his spirit can seep back into his body.”
Oh, how I wished he were right! Ever the optimist, Ian had given me a little more hope. Maybe the spell would reverse its self after a short while, and Lysander would heal and return to us.
“Ariana is coming by later. You can show her then.”
I gave Ian a genuine smile.
“There it is. That’s what I’ve been looking for. You look so pretty when you’re not moping. Now, let’s go out and celebrate this good news.”
Part of me wanted to. I’d been cooped up for the last two weeks, researching and staying by Lysander’s side. It would be nice to get out and enjoy the city.
Ian took a step, closing the gap between us. He was a tall man, six foot or better. He pulled me into a hug and cradled my head to his chest. “It’s not a crime to go out and have fun. You have to live too. Otherwise, what’s immortality good for?”
I pulled back and looked down at the crystal in my hands. It seemed to pulse, as if Lysander were trying to tell me something. The warm, tingling sensation of his presence briefly flashed through me. Maybe he was saying the same thing: You shouldn’t forget to live.
I held it up and gently kissed the smooth sides. “I’ll be back soon,” I said, and then placed it against his chest.
“Atta girl.” Ian’s full blinding smile returned. “Let’s turn that frown upside down, permanently. We’re gonna hit the town and have a little fun.”
“I’ll go out with you tonight, on two conditions,” I said as I closed the lid to the coffin.
“Quit with the cheesy lines. You need some new material.”
“Ouch. I think I might be insulted,” Ian quipped.
I shook my head. “Oh, poor baby. It couldn’t hurt that bad. I doubt anything in the world could damage that ego.”
“You’re so feisty and full of anger. I know a way to relieve some of that tension.” He waggled his eyebrows.
I gave him my best I-don’t-think-so look and drummed my fingers on the top of the coffin.
“Can’t blame a guy for trying. Either way, you’re still smiling.” He smirked. “What’s the other condition?”
“That you talk Zuri into coming with us.”
“Spoil sport.” Ian shot up the stairs, leaving me alone with Lysander’s body.
I had to laugh. Ian just didn’t give up. That, in its own funny way, gave me more hope. Maybe he was right and Lysander might actually make a comeback. That was a reason to celebrate, even if it was with Ian. I took one last look at the coffin. “Are you sure I should go out with him?” I mumbled to the box. As expected, there was no response, but I still felt Lysander spirit.
I wished, just once, that he would answer. With a sigh, I headed to the stairs, pulling the chain for the light as I walked by. “I’ll see you later honey. Don’t you go waking up without me, okay?”