Authors: Mandi Casey
Table of Contents
SOUL MATE PUBLISHING
Cover Design by Rae Monet, Inc.
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, business establishments, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
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Published in the United States of America by
Soul Mate Publishing
P.O. Box 24
Macedon, New York, 14502
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I’d like to dedicate this novel,
to my best and lifelong friend,
Kathy (Kashy) D.
I’d like to acknowledge the incredible dedication and hard work of my fabulous critique partner, Marian Lanouette, who is also an amazing author. She has stayed with me through the Sydney series and I can’t express my thanks to her enough.
I’d also like to say thanks to my husband for understanding that I write, a lot, and I appreciate his willingness to bounce ideas back and forth. Love you bunches, husband.
Deborah Gilbert and Soul Mate Publishing, I say a heartfelt thank you. I appreciate your willingness to take on a new author and believe in Sydney Sedrick’s stories as much as I do.
Sighing while I dusted the stone and glass figurines throughout the store, I had hoped the mundane tasks would help distract me from the anticipation of the mailman. Kieran, leader of the local vampire coven, was sending out his invitation to the Blood Rites Ball. The purpose in having the ball was to see who would next be elected to watch over the Selected. Since I am the Selected, there was a lot at stake, considering my life and overall well-being hung in the balance. It was possible whoever my new babysitter was might decide to imprison me.
Not everyone believed the Selected should be allowed to walk around of her own free will. Actually, there were a lot of people, vampires, werewolves, demons, and rogues who felt the Selected should be kept in a gilded cage her entire life, or to be executed. They felt the potential threat of the Selected’s powers was too high.
Needless to say, the upcoming events of the Blood Rites Ball had me on pins and needles. The thought of not being invited had me feeling like a furry lump had taken up permanent residence in my gut. If someone else was going to make decisions with such an impact on my future, I thought it would be nice to have them do it in my presence. Kieran said the ball was planned for tomorrow night. He hadn’t mentioned if he put me on the invite list.
While debating which would be better, to go or not to go, the door chimes jingled, signaling the arrival of either a customer or Dale, the mailman. I turned around with a smile on my face to see who it was. The moment reality struck at what my eyes saw, the smile dropped off my face and pain set into my chest like an icy hand had wrapped itself around my heart and had given it a good squeeze.
Blake, the sexiest man to ever have walked the earth, stood in front of me holding his right arm with his left hand. His chest heaved as he struggled for air. Blake was a werewolf who had extra speedy healing abilities, so whoever or whatever hurt him had to be very strong and very dangerous. The dark red blood staining the front of his shirt and caking the right side of his neck made me nauseous and light-headed.
“Blake!” Running past him to the front door, I threw the deadbolt lock into place. It would be very hard to try and explain it if one of my customers walked in and spotted Blake with blood smeared all over him. I raced back to inspect his wounds. He must have lost a lot of blood. My Selected senses hadn’t alerted me to his presence before he walked through the door as it should have. Usually, they kicked in when a vampire or a werewolf entered a five hundred foot radius around me. That included outside the walls of buildings, and my senses seemed to be growing stronger every day.
Even though Blake bore such serious wounds, I couldn’t help but appreciate his wild dark-brown hair that hung just past his shoulders. Typically Blake didn’t look so disheveled like he did at that moment. Looking toward him from the door, his amber-gold eyes bore into mine. He was in a lot of pain. I could tell by the way he winced as he moved. Sighing in dismay, I watched his backside as he stumbled over to the couch on the far side of the store next to the fireplace. He dropped down, groaning in pain as he landed on the cushion.
It didn’t bother me that his boots had dragged in remnants of the slushy snow covering the streets outside.
Blake had a fine backside.
My center throbbed to by caressed by him.
Where did that come from?
“Sydney, I was attacked by a demon, and not just any demon. She was a Judge.”
“Judge? What’s a Judge?” Could my life get any more bizarre? Not long ago, I discovered that vampires and werewolves existed. Oh, and I found out I was the Selected, which meant everyone wanted me to be on their side because according to some old prophecies, I was destined to be some kind of savior.
Blake groaned in pain, bringing me back to the present. My life was a little overwhelming at times. Blake resituated himself on the couch in such a way to avoid putting pressure on his injured arm and shoulder.
“Please explain to me what you meant by ‘Judge’. I’ve never heard you use that term before.” A chill ran down my back as I gently put my fingertips on the pulse point near his wrist. His heart rate was beating a bit fast, but not too fast.
“Judges are demons assigned to the king of the vampires. They do his bidding, uphold vampire law, and execute punishment to misbehaving bloodsuckers when Kieran and his Knights can’t. Someone owed the vampire king big, so they negotiated the Judges’ contract to be servants of the king.” Blake closed his eyes and took a guarded deep breath.
My mouth dropped open. There were royal vampires? No one ever mentioned that fun fact before, not even Aunt Judith. In all the discussions we’ve had, neither Blake nor Kieran had mentioned them either.
A knocking came from the front door, startling me. If the Judges came after Blake at the store, there was little I could do to protect him. I highly doubted if they followed Blake that they’d bother with the consideration to knock. After seeing Blake injured and hearing about demon assassins, I was on edge.
A shadowed figure passed the window.
Dale’s face peered through the glass. He looked around to see if anyone was in the store.
I cracked the door open to keep Dale from seeing Blake, drenched in blood, on the couch. Dale’s knit hat was dusted in fluffy white snowflakes and his cheeks were bright red from the chill in the air.
“Dale, now’s not really a good time, the stock delivery guy just dumped a huge order off, and I have to deal with that before opening the store. You can just give me my mail from here, okay?” I squeezed two fingers through the door and waited.
“Miss Sydney, is everything all right?” He repositioned his big mail carrier’s bag to sit more on his side to allow him to get closer to the door and a better peek inside.
I put a friendly smile on my face to reassure him that everything was on the up and up, but from his expression, he wasn’t buying it.
“Everything’s just fine. I’m busy, that’s all.” I didn’t want to be rude, but I really needed to go hold pressure on Blake’s wounds. He hadn’t stopped bleeding yet.
“Miss Sydney, I think it would be best if you let me in to take a look around and make sure for myself that you’re all right.” Dale wasn’t budging. What was with this town? The people that lived here in Kenosha all seemed to have taken the same medication that made them super bossy.
A little more sternly, I said, “Everything’s fine, Dale. Really, I’m just busy. That’s all, now give me my mail, and you can be on your way.”
Dale was a really nice guy, and it was clear he was just worried. He didn’t deserve the harshness in my tone of voice, but Blake really needed me. Hopefully, Dale would get over my rudeness, but it wasn’t like I’d ever be able to explain to him the situation.
Dale’s eyes narrowed.
“Miss Sydney, if you got one of them abnormals in there, maybe I can help. The abnormal’s blood stinks all the way out here. You see, not many people know this about me, but I’m a healer, Miss Sydney.”
“What do you mean by abnormal?” Did Dale really know? I was coming to believe that maybe I was the only one in the city, before I was bitten, that didn’t know vampires and werewolves existed.
“I know all about them dang vampires and werewolves. They’re everywhere around these parts, and well, my granddaddy taught me a few tricks. Sydney, I know you’re different, special. Well, my family has a special streak in its blood, too.” Dale leaned his head closer to the door and whispered, “You see, we got some fairy blood running in us, and we can heal people with our hands. Plus, I got some supplies in my bag might be of some help.”
His sincerity made me smile. Dale looked at me with such genuine concern. Before making a decision on whether to let him into the store or not, Blake called out in pain.
“Fine, but you have to promise you won’t tell anyone about what you see. You said that I’m special. You’re right, and I have a temper to match. So don’t betray me, Dale. If you do, you’ll have a lot of abnormals pissed and looking for you.”
Dale came into the store. The snowflakes melted into his clothes the moment the fabric hit the warm air. He went straight for Blake. Very carefully, he removed Blake’s shirt to see where all the blood was coming from. After cleaning Blake’s chest and face with a cool washcloth from the storeroom in back, Dale made a quick diagnosis and set to work.
“Blake, these gashes look like you’ve been attacked by a fire demon.” Awe and disbelief was written across Dale’s face as he said it.
Blake looked from me to Dale. Suspicion darkened his gaze as he assessed the mailman.
“You’re right. It was a fire demon, and she wasn’t happy to see me. How do you know about fire demons?” Blake attempted to sit up straighter on the couch, but Dale patted his knee in reassurance.
“Wait, what? The fire demon that did this to you is a female?” It was pretty hard to believe a female of any sort could beat Blake in a fight. He was one of the strongest and fastest werewolves in his pack. His strength came straight from the pack leader himself, Blake’s father. Whoever this fire demon was, she must be pretty nasty.
Dale fidgeted where he knelt on the floor in front of Blake. The talk of demons and werewolves seemed to make him uncomfortable. Placing my hand gently on his shoulder only made him squeak in surprise. The mailman was wound more tightly than me.
Blake must have seen Dale’s uneasiness through his fidgety movements. “Ah, yes. I have heard of your family. You don’t have to involve yourself in our business. We know who you are. My pack appreciates what your people do. We’d be fine if you wanted to stay out of the war. We don’t mind that you keep tabs on us. I’m sure your knowledge will come in handy one day when we need it most.” With the recognition of Dale, and what he stood for, Blake sat back against the couch. His body seemed to relax a smidgen. Apparently, he didn’t see Dale’s knowledge of his pack quite as threatening as I would have thought.
There was a clear understanding between the two men. To my dismay, neither one of them bothered to explain it to me.
“Okay, enough secretive, behind-the-scenes action going on. I must say I’m getting pretty tired of it. Dale, help Blake with his injuries. Blake, start explaining what is going on, right now.” Blake stared at me. I could tell he was hesitating because he didn’t know how much information he should divulge to either of us. If he knew what was good for him, it would be all of it.
Dale nodded and dug around in his mail-carrier bag. When he found what he was looking for, he brought out a leather pouch and a small clear vial filled with a blue liquid. He busied himself adding yellow powder to the liquid making a paste that smelled like fresh lemons. He then applied the green-colored concoction to Blake’s chest wound.
The manipulation of tissue made my stomach churn. The pressure Dale was applying to the wound with the applicator caused more blood to leak through the tissue and drip down Blake’s toned abs, soaking the waistband of his jeans. Ordinarily, such things didn’t make me swoon. Seeing someone important to me injured and in pain was a whole other ballgame.
Blake’s face tightened and he clenched his jaw as Dale packed the paste into the deep gash created by the fire demon’s attack. Dale used his fingertip to push the paste into the jagged parts of Blake’s flesh until the wound was completely covered with the green substance.
“Sydney, a few members of my pack and some of Kieran’s Knights have been doing recon on the compound where you were taken by the lightning demons a few months ago. There has been abnormally high activity buzzing around the place, so we’ve been watching who’s been coming and going. It seems the rogue vampires and werewolves are amassing a small army. Unfortunately, it looks like they have recruited more demons than we originally thought.”
“So, that’s why the fire demon attacked you? Because she found you watching the compound? That doesn’t make any sense if she’s really a Judge, like you said.” I thought Judges were supposed to punish naughty vampires and not attack innocent werewolves. I didn’t understand what had started the fight.
He shook his head and continued to explain while Dale made a makeshift sling out of clean towels from the storeroom to secure Blake’s arm. Luckily no customers had arrived on my storefront’s door wanting to do some shopping.
“The fire demon wasn’t one of the demons from the compound. I actually interrupted her recon mission. When she spotted me, she mistook me for the enemy, attacked first, and asked questions later.” It was obvious from Blake’s tone that he was impressed with the fire demon. To my surprise, his admiration of the female who attacked him sparked some serious jealous feelings on my end, and I could feel the tips of my ears burn.
“So, she attacked you for no good reason? Who is her boss?” It wasn’t like a fire demon’s boss would really take a complaint from a human very serious, but her hurting Blake pissed me off. Maybe the awe I saw in Blake’s eyes when he spoke of her ticked me off, too. I was the Selected with powers of my own. Problem was, my powers were taking their own sweet time developing and getting stronger.
“Sydney,” Blake said as he sat up on the couch. He moved his shoulder a bit and nodded thanks to Dale for his efforts. “The fire demon isn’t just an ordinary demon. She’s a Judge.”
“But that doesn’t make any sense, why is a Judge even here? Aren’t they supposed to be watching over the king and his family?” The pieces of the story weren’t falling into place in my very confused mind. Blake didn’t seem all too surprised to run into the demon, only impressed.
Blake nodded as he spoke to both Dale and me. “I’m not sure what the Judges are doing in town. She mentioned that it had something to do with the Blood Rites Ball Kieran is hosting tomorrow night. The vampire royals are planning on attending. That’s the only explanation I can think of for having the Judges in town. Usually, they are very close to the king at all times. It’s not the first time we’ve run into one, but they’re pretty rare, and there’s always a royal around that they are protecting.”
Dale stood to repack the supplies into his overly large bag. His secret history surprised me. One day I would make him sit down and tell me all about how his family is involved with the war between the vampires and werewolves. Did Dale and his family have a side they were on? I never would have thought he had special healing powers. He’d never bothered to mention that before, even though he came into the store six days a week and personally hand delivered me the mail.