Burning Both Ends
Series: Guardian Witch , Book 3.0
By: Ally Shields | Other books by Ally Shields
Published By: Etopia Press
Published: Jul 19, 2013
ISBN # 9781940223254
By: Ally Shields | Other books by Ally Shields
Published By: Etopia Press
Published: Jul 19, 2013
ISBN # 9781940223254
Word Count: 81,889
Available in: Adobe Acrobat, HTML, Mobipocket (.mobi), Epub
Burning Both Ends (Guardian Witch) by Ally Shields - Romance>VampiresGuardian Witch Book Three
Friend or lover. Life or death…
Supernatural cop Ari Calin arrives at the hostile Toronto vampire court with an ultimatum from the Riverdale vampires: Sebastian, Toronto’s vampire prince, must stop his unprovoked attacks—or else. Ari wasn’t expecting a fight—the “or else” was typical vampire grandstanding. But even with vampire Andreas De Luca by her side for a show of strength, things get ugly fast. Toronto’s vampire world is in crisis, and surrounded by enemies, Ari and Andreas find themselves under attack.
That’s when Ari gets the call from the Magic Council ordering her home. Steffan, a good friend and leader of Riverdale's werewolves, has gone missing during top secret negotiations with the US government, and is believed to have been kidnapped—or killed.
Andreas can't abandon the Toronto vampires, and Ari can’t leave him to face impossible odds alone. But neither can she disobey her orders from the Council, or leave her friend Steffan to be tortured and killed. Ari's loyalties pull her in two directions—the closest thing to love she’s ever known on one side, and friendship and duty on the other. If she can stay alive long enough for the choice to matter…
Reader Rating: 5.0 (1 Ratings)
Excerpt:Chapter One Fangs flashed where her cheek had been an instant before. Ari whirled, crouching to meet the vampire’s return charge, and her fingers sparked, witch blood clamoring for action. Refusing its urgent call, she threw the magic powder as he wheeled and sped toward her in a blur. Green particles sparkled. A loud thump. The vampire recoiled from the invisible barrier and took two staggering steps. A direct hit. Before a smile more than touched her lips, the dark figure recovered and leaped. Ari backpedaled, but his weight drove her to the hard ground. He grinned down at her, a lock of dark hair falling across his forehead. Trapping her arms above her head, he leaned close, his dark eyes glittering. He brushed her lips with his and whispered, “Better—but not yet good enough.” Andreas shifted his six-foot, muscled body, sprang up, and offered her a hand. Ignoring the courtesy, Ari scrambled to her feet. Getting pinned by your boyfriend wasn’t always a good thing. “Back off, bloodsucker,” she grumbled. She shook out the fallen leaves and pine needles that clung to her long, honey-colored hair. Andreas chuckled. A rich, warm sound. “Touchy tonight. Did I put your nose out of joint, little witch? And here I was, trying to help with your training.” Andreas glided across the forest clearing with the smooth grace of a natural predator. He collected their cell phones from under a park bench where they’d stashed them earlier in the evening and handed her one. “Thanks.” Ari avoided his eyes. Damn right she was annoyed. She was competitive, and second place wasn’t good enough—even against a master level vampire. Especially one who wasn’t really trying to kill her. Andreas studied her face, his voice pragmatic. “I am glad you are taking this seriously. Other combatants will be less charitable than I, less mindful of breaking your pretty neck. I can almost guarantee Sebastian will continue his fight with Prince Daron, and next time he may lead the attack. You might have to face him again.” “Oh, come on. You can’t really believe he’d come to Riverdale. He’s too comfortable lording it over everyone in Toronto.” Andreas shrugged. “It is unlikely, but a sobering thought. With Sebastian, anything is possible.” He frowned, obviously thinking about the brutal vampire leader. “He has grown more aggressive, erratic, perhaps less sane, as sometimes happens with the elder ones. Our defeat of his minions will only fuel his rage and make him more determined.” “Minions? What kind of word is that?” Ari demanded. “You really should update your vocabulary. Being born in seventeen hundred and something is no excuse for using words no one understands.” She was just being bitchy. In truth, she wouldn’t change a thing about Andreas’s speech or sexy voice. The archaic words, the faint accent of Italian aristocracy, and the shivers of sensation it produced were all part of him. She never got used to the seductive effect…even when she wanted to be annoyed. “As for Prince Sebastian,” she said, allowing her sarcasm free reign before turning toward the path that led home, “if he attacks me, there won’t be any rules against using my witch fire. Or calling upon the fire spirits to destroy him.” She flicked a glance at Andreas. “I’ve been practicing for better control of all the magics, but the fire would be enough. Even princes aren’t immune to flames.” She couldn’t resist adding, “Maybe you shouldn’t be so cocky. Pissing off a witch might be sufficient grounds for breaking my witches’ oath.” When this only elicited an amused quirk of his lips, Ari sighed. It was an empty threat, and not even much of a sarcastic joke. She would never use her witch fire on anyone except for defense, and certainly not on Andreas. Twitching her shoulders to relieve the tension, she made an attempt to recover her sense of humor by producing a half grin. “Watch out for the barrier dust next time. Tonight was only a test dosage. I didn’t want to risk hurting my sexy boyfriend.” “Ah, you are too kind.” A small laugh escaped his lips. “I will take heed and be more wary in the future.” Yeah, right. Both of them knew it would take something far more powerful than magic dust, her latest witchcraft concoction, to stop Andreas De Luca. Besides his two hundred years of experience, he was second-in-command to the local vampire prince and had all the power to prove it. Not to mention abilities mostly unexplained: being up and about before the sun went down and his resistance to her bracelet of protective charms—including the silver cross and a miniature vial of holy water. “You worry too much about me,” she said, following up on his earlier comments. “Whatever Sebastian plans next, I’ll be ready. I’m not exactly helpless.” She rolled her eyes, thinking about the years of martial arts and weaponry training. Sheesh, what did he want? “Besides, now I have the Book of Shadows to help with the magic.” A small glimmer of satisfaction touched her lips. The Calin Family Book of Shadows, filled with the history, spells, and potions of her witch clan, had recently returned to her care after being lost for eighteen years. She made a point of spending an hour or two every evening poring over its pages. Sometimes she even studied at Andreas’s supper club while he sang on stage or handled business matters. “I do not discount any of your skills, but I know how devious and ruthless Sebastian is. He plays by nobody’s rules except his own, and he will not forget or forgive our interference. We must not become over-confident.” Andreas reached out his long fingers and plucked a leaf from her hair. “Which means we should train longer and harder.” Ari sighed, knowing he was right. Her skills always had to be at their peak to fulfill her Guardian duties as the supernatural cop for Olde Town’s population of vampires and other magic users. But having an enemy like Sebastian, who was close to a thousand years old, made her fitness more urgent. She didn’t need to be reminded of his power. When she’d visited Canada on a prior case, she had barely escaped Sebastian’s attempt to control her mind. If not for her magical witch defenses… Sebastian’s obsession with power and his fervor to continue his long-standing feud with Daron had led to two attacks within the last year. Ari and her friends had helped the local vampires win those rounds, but not without a cost. Ari still grieved for Yana, her former mentor, who’d been ambushed and killed by Sebastian’s werewolf assassins. She sighed again. Under the circumstances, a little extra honing of her vampire fighting skills was probably a good thing. Not that she minded spending time with Andreas—not at all. It was the losing that wasn’t fun. “It was a good hunt tonight,” Andreas said. “I almost got away. If you hadn’t made that last leap from the tree…” “Yes, your tracking and evading skills have improved, and the magic dust was an interesting touch.” “Surprised you, didn’t I?” Ari couldn’t stop the hint of satisfaction that crept into her voice. It wasn’t often she caught him off guard. Her eyes lit remembering how he’d stumbled from the impact. “I found the recipe in the Book of Shadows. Recorded by a great-great aunt, who used it against werewolves. A couple of adjustments upped the wattage.” His lips crooked into a grin. “It does have an initial punch. The barrier dissolved too quickly to stop an assailant for long, but it should throw any vampire off balance. A nice addition to your craft.” Music to her ears. A few months ago Andreas had urged Ari to trust in her inner magic, instead of relying on her physical skills for everything. And she had done that, but it was sometimes trial and error. Today’s magic powder was a coup of sorts, much better than the cloaking potion she tried last month. The cloaking elixir had worked fine against her werewolf friends; she’d been invisible, but it hadn’t fooled the vampire for a second. That failure made today’s success even sweeter. “Um, thanks. I’ll take that as a compliment. You don’t give many.” Ari was still pouting. And he called her on it. “Need an ego boost, Arianna?” He hid a smile. “I am sure I can oblige. Let me see, what are your greatest accomplishments? How about excellent cooking?” He ignored the small punch on his arm and continued. “Perhaps not, considering the many meals you consume at Club Dintero and the take-out cartons in your trash. Although you do pour an acceptable glass of wine. Ah, I have it. Interior decorating. The bare walls of your apartment are done with such style.” He put a hand to his forehead as if deep in thought. “Hmm, what else? Stitchery? Of wounds, perhaps.” “Stop it,” she said, finally laughing. “We both know I don’t do much domestic stuff. Except for brewing potions. But one of these nights, I’m gonna kick your butt.” “Ah-ha. I thought I saw a lust for vengeance in those green eyes.” He easily sidestepped when she took a half-hearted swing at him. In spite of failing to defeat Andreas or evade his pursuit during the training session, Ari knew she was making good progress. She was getting better at fighting vampires every night they trained. If Sebastian was planning another attack, she would be ready this time. As they headed toward the west gate into Olde Town, both of them seemed content with the companionable silence. Their course wound along the tree-darkened paths toward the swan fountain on the edge of Goshen Park and in the general direction of their separate residences: Ari’s studio apartment, where her cat Bella would be waiting, and Andreas’s Victorian mansion, which he shared with a weretiger staff and six vampires of his lineage. Despite the mild temperature earlier in the evening, a cool wind blew through the dense pine trees, chilling Ari’s back. The Midwestern fall season was quickly slipping away, and she zipped up her leather jacket. Her companion had no such problem. His immunity to temperature changes was one of the few vampire perks Ari envied. “I’ve been learning my witch family history,” she finally said. “Read through The Book twice. It made me feel—” She halted suddenly. Her skin prickled with awareness of approaching Otherworld power. She scanned the forest, as Andreas’s body stilled beside her. Whatever inner radar warned him, their magics seemed to be on synchronized alert systems. A long moment passed, then a fox-colored wolf trotted into view, a small, taupe bag attached to his collar. He paused, gave them a brief doggie grin and disappeared behind a bush. Ari let out her breath, and she felt Andreas relax. She recognized that grin, even if the wind at their backs had pushed away his familiar scent. A few seconds later, a redheaded man in his early thirties stepped out of the woods and walked toward them. He shrugged into a gray T-shirt that matched his faded jogging shorts. “That’s the only real inconvenience about this werewolf thing,” the man complained, clipping the collar and empty bag to his shorts. “Having to carry your damn clothes around with you.” “Good evening to you too, Steffan,” Andreas said. He smiled broadly at the local werewolf leader. Steffan returned the grin, throwing his arms out in an all-encompassing gesture. “It is a super evening, isn’t it? Do they still call it Indian summer in October? Or did that stop in September?” He scratched his head. “I called the Club, but they said you were training in the park. And I tried both cells. When no one answered, I decided I’d let my nose find you.” “That’s rather persistent,” Ari said. “Not that I’m sorry to see you, but is something wrong? Has something happened?” When people went out of their way to look for her, it usually meant trouble. “Uh, nothing. Not really.” He flipped his red curls out of his eyes. “Mostly it was a good excuse for a run after being cooped up in the office and attending meetings all week.” Steffan stretched his shoulders, still adjusting to the sudden shift from wolf to human form. Only the strongest lycanthropes could shift back and forth at will. Lesser wolves required a lengthy recovery time to avoid the debilitating consequences of muscle weakness and nausea. “Are you going to explain the ‘not really’ part?” Andreas prompted. “Oh, uh, sure. An unknown pack of wolves blew into town. Only five or six of them, at least that’s all we’ve seen, but they’re acting too much like that bunch a year ago for me to be OK with it. They haven’t reported in to any of our leaders and are keeping to themselves. Sound like a familiar pattern?” “Not Sebastian’s wolf assassins again.” Ari frowned and looked at Andreas. Hadn’t they killed most of that pack last year? “I can’t prove it.” Steffan shook his head. “No one’s even talked to them. They’ve been running in the park three nights in a row. I thought maybe I could spot them tonight and have a chat, but no such luck. I made a complete circuit before stopping here.” “They could be strangers just passing through,” Ari said. “It doesn’t have to be an enemy pack.” “Yeah, anything’s possible. I’m just saying.” Steffan’s voice was tight, defensive, more than was warranted by her comment, and concern narrowed his brown eyes. “I’m still wary of newcomers who don’t follow protocol by making themselves known to pack leaders. It’s an insult. If we had responded more quickly last time, maybe we could have prevented some of the deaths.” He glanced at them. “Are you sure there are no other signs of trouble?” Andreas gave his characteristic shrug. Ari shook her head, but stayed focused on Steffan’s face. Tension rolled off the werewolf leader out of all proportion to his words. That alone was enough to put Ari on alert. “No premonitions,” she said slowly, “but sometimes the beginnings are subtle.” She replayed events of the last week in her head. Had she felt anything unusual? Unexplained tingling of her skin, portentous dreams? Nothing stood out. She’d been rather distracted by her relationship with Andreas since July. Maybe too distracted. Lovers could have that effect. “I’ll pay closer attention and ask around about new wolves in town. Have you talked with Martin?” “I just did, earlier this evening,” Steffan said. “He didn’t even know they were here.” “That’s not good. He’s usually the first person to notice new lycanthropes. They have to be in hiding.” Martin was her counterpart, the Guardian for the eastside of Riverdale, the modern city and the suburbs, where many of the werewolves lived among the human population. Because of the risks from constant interaction, Martin kept close tabs on them, especially strangers. “It doesn’t feel right,” Steffan said. Tired lines etched his face, as he scratched his chin. “You both should be careful. Maybe I’m over-reacting, imagining trouble, but I don’t think so.” Even the long breath he released was weary. “Ah, dammit, I’ve been involved in some difficult negotiations the last few weeks. Could be that’s affecting my perceptions.” “What negotiations? Anything I should know?” she asked, immediately interested. If negotiations meant disputes, she didn’t want a wolf feud erupting without warning. “Just some tricky wolf issues,” Steffan answered vaguely. “You know lycanthropes, we can’t agree on anything. It’s making all of us a little jumpy.” He gave a short bark of laughter, as if ridding himself of an unwelcome load. He put his nose in the air, sniffing the wind eagerly. “Weather is changing. Could be a good omen. Race you to the fountain if you give me a minute to change.” “You’re on,” Ari said. She hadn’t missed his vague explanation, his eagerness to drop the discussion, or his shuttered look that said he wished he hadn’t brought it up, but his reaction wasn’t enough to alarm her. Otherworlders were private. Hell, Andreas was downright secretive. Steffan was better, but he rarely shared pack business, unless it was necessary. If she needed to know, he’d tell her in time. “Don’t try to claim any handicaps for this race,” Andreas called to the wolf, as Steffan disappeared behind the bush again. “I do not want to exert myself.” “Not bloody likely to need any concessions from you,” Steffan shouted back. Like many lycanthropes that interacted frequently with humans, he didn’t shift physical forms in front of others, if he had a choice. It was personal. From experience, Ari knew the sight of metamorphosis—the stretching and tearing, the shedding and growing of fur—was disconcerting to an observer. Andreas’s smile faded as he turned to Ari while they waited. “Our friend is tense. He is concealing something.” Before she could respond, Steffan emerged from the brush in wolf form and pricked his ears in their direction. Without warning, Ari took off running. Surprise was her only chance. The three of them streaked through the park, a wildness racing through her blood. As Ari’s long hair streamed behind her, she welcomed the cool breeze on her face. The wolf and the vampire caught her within the first seconds and could have pulled ahead, but Andreas matched her stride for stride. Steffan dropped into a steady pace beside them until the fountain was in sight. Andreas and Steffan suddenly sprinted ahead, the vampire claiming a close victory. Even a Guardian witch couldn’t beat a master vampire or an alpha werewolf in pure speed. The outcome was ordained from the beginning, but the run was exhilarating. When Ari pulled up, both men grinned and razzed her about running like a girl. Old joke. She wouldn’t let just anybody get away with that, but these two had special dispensation. At least until she figured out how to beat them. Steffan parted from them at the fountain and headed for his home in the suburbs. Ari and Andreas continued through the park. She sent soft tendrils of magic to absorb the sounds and smells of the evening. Dried leaves rustled in the breeze. An apple tree’s fallen fruit emitted a cider scent. A night bird called. Something slithered over the pine needles near the path. Goshen Park, which separated Olde Town from the modern portions of Riverdale, was closed to humans after sundown. Otherworlders, including the more predatory races, were allowed to run free once dark descended, but its current inhabitants were simply wild creatures foraging for supper or seeking shelter for the night. When they exited the park gate and turned onto Ari’s street, Andreas broke the silence. “I think we should trust Steffan’s instincts. This pack will warrant watching. I will inform Prince Daron at our court meeting tomorrow. If it does not run too late, I will join you on patrol afterward so we can discuss any precautions we should take. Perhaps there will be time for another training session.” “Good idea. And I’d love a re-match. Be prepared for anything,” she warned, giving him a teasing glance. “I have other secrets up my sleeve.” “Do you now?” His tone changed, deeper, richer, and she felt the subtle touch of his magic curl around her. “Perhaps I should search you and see what I can find.” His hooded gaze briefly ran over her, and Ari suppressed a shiver of anticipation. “That was just a figure of speech. A body search is not necessary,” she said loftily, then flashed him a grin and broke into a sprint toward her apartment. “But you’re welcome to look if you can.” Andreas grabbed her around the waist within a half dozen steps of her door. Swinging her around, he covered her mouth with his. Ari’s pulse spiked, but she shoved him away, nipping his lower lip as they parted. She tugged on his arm, dragging him with her, and they entered the building laughing. Dawn was fast approaching when Andreas left to seek his own sleeping quarters for the day. As Ari curled under the covers, her thoughts returned to Steffan’s visit. Surely it was too soon for Sebastian’s wolves to be back. Most of the rogue pack had been killed last year, including their leaders, and the authorities had deported the rest. Of course, wolves reproduced in litters, and the young grew up quickly. It wouldn’t be hard for four-legged creatures to slip unnoticed across international borders.