Influential Magic

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It’s tough being a faery in New Orleans, a city fraught with vampires… especially when their very existence drains your life force.

Willow Rhoswen, owner of The Fated Cupcake and part-time vampire hunter for the Void is having a rough week. Four years after her twin brother’s mysterious death, Willow’s life is threatened and the director saddles her with a new partner—her ex-boyfriend, David. To her horror, he’s turned vamp, which causes her physical pain whenever she touches him… and any other specimen of the undead.

In order to save Willow’s life, David agrees to turn double agent against the most powerful vampire organization in New Orleans. Or so he says. And she’s convinced they know something about her brother’s death. Unsure where David’s loyalties lie, she turns to Talisen, her childhood crush, to help her solve the mystery.

Caught between two gorgeous men and a director who’ll stop at nothing to control Willow’s gifts, she’ll have to follow her instincts and learn who to trust. Otherwise, she risks losing more than just her life.

Chapter 1

The ugly concrete building loomed before us, making my body itch with unease. I gritted my teeth and tried to mentally prepare for the long flight ahead. There was a reason faeries hated airplanes. Metal had an unfortunate way of draining our energy.

“You didn’t have to walk me in,” I said to Talisen, my brother’s best friend and the guy who’d just spent five hours transporting me from Eureka to the Sacramento airport. “I would’ve been perfectly fine if you’d dropped me off at departures.”

“Are you kidding?” Talisen draped a casual arm over my shoulders and made a show of stretching his legs. “One more minute in the truck and my limbs would’ve seized up.”

I eyed his lanky but muscular body. Tall, broad-shouldered, and tan from his long days of working outdoors in my mother’s nursery. He’d dressed nicer than usual today. Gone were his faded blue jeans, scuffed work boots, and pop-culture T-shirt, replaced by olive khakis, a short-sleeved, button-down shirt, and black canvas shoes. “I think you could’ve survived until you hooked up with your lunch date.”

He pulled the glass door open for me. “Date?”

“Yeah. Yesterday I heard you tell a client you weren’t available this afternoon because you had a date. I assumed that’s what this was about.” I waved my hand up and down, indicating the change in his wardrobe choice.

He laughed. “I was talking about you, Willow.”

“Oh.” I smirked. “Sorry excuse for a date. Is dropping your best friend’s sister off at the airport the best you can come up with? Maybe you need lessons. Remind me the next time I come home to set you straight on what a normal twenty-four-year-old would consider ‘dating.’”

“Ha! Look who’s talking. You didn’t even so much as look at any other dudes this summer, let alone go out with one. Pathetic, really. No, thanks. I’ll get my lessons elsewhere.”

His words hit a sore spot in the middle of my chest, and I was grateful we’d reached the ticket counter so I wouldn’t have to continue our regular banter. David, my ex back in New Orleans, had dumped me right before I’d left my store, The Fated Cupcake, in the hands of my trusted assistant so I could run my mom’s shop while she recovered from an accident. Other than missing New Orleans; my dog, Link; my shop; and my best friend, Phoebe, it had been fun and distracting, hanging out with Talisen nearly every day.

David had become a distant memory. Almost.

I paid the extra fee to check my bag and met Talisen near the security gate.

He held his arms out and sent me a rueful smile.

I tilted my head and eyed him suspiciously. “You don’t expect me to fall for that, do you?”

His smile widened. “Get over here.”

Wrapping my arms around his waist, I buried my head in his shoulder. “Thank you for this summer,” I whispered.

He placed one of his large hands on my head and gently stroked my hair. “There’s nothing to thank me for.”

Hot tears burned the back of my eyes. I squeezed them shut, forcing the emotion down. “Beau…” My breath caught on a silent sob.

“It’s all right, Wil. He’s been with us. He’s with us every day.” Talisen squeezed me harder, and I knew we were both picturing my brother on that fateful day four years ago. He’d been smiling and laughing only a few hours before we’d found him lifeless in my mother’s lavender fields.

I pulled back and nodded.

Talisen eased his grip but didn’t let go. His deep green eyes bored into mine. “Don’t stay away so long this time.”

“I already promised Mom I’d be back for Christmas.”

“Good.” He laced his fingers around a lock of my hair. “Your hair looks nice, lightened by the sun.”

Warmth spread to my belly. All the time spent outside this summer had left streaks of gold in my wavy mane. “I’ll get highlights for December.”

“Don’t. Natural’s better.” Faeries didn’t usually mess with chemicals. And I wouldn’t, either. But there were natural hair dyes. Still, Tal knew the one quality I really loved about myself was my long, slightly curly auburn hair. “Text me as soon as you get there.”

I grimaced and patted my pocket for my phone.

He rolled his eyes. “You didn’t leave it at your mom’s, did you?”

“Um…” I plunged my hand into my purse, frantically searching for the iPhone I never used. My fingers wrapped around something hard and cool. “Got it.”

Talisen took it from my hand and pressed the on button. “Your battery’s almost dead. Try to charge it before you get on the plane.”

I snatched it out of his hand and tossed it back into my purse. “Yeah, yeah. You’re worse than Phoebe.”

“She’s just given up on your lazy ways. Promise you’ll let me know when you land.”

I nodded.

“Good.” His expression turned serious and he seemed to really look at me. Then he leaned in as if to whisper something, but instead brushed his lips lightly over mine, lingering slightly longer than a casual goodbye kiss. “Stay safe,” he said against my lips and then turned and walked out of the airport. I stood still, stunned, my hand against my tingling lips as I watched him go.

Where had that come from? Flustered, I headed for the security gate.

One layover in Houston and seven sleepless hours later, I stumbled off the jet and into Louis Armstrong airport. I’d thought of nothing but Talisen ever since I’d left California. What in damnation was that kiss about? We’d been flirting with each other relentlessly for the past nine years, but because of Beau we’d never acted on anything. Not to mention Talisen’s constant stream of revolving-door girlfriends. Now, with Beau gone, if I lost Talisen due to some stupid relationship problem… it was too hard to even think such a thought.

No, we were just friends. More than that. We were family. And that’s the way I intended to keep it. I whipped out my phone and powered it on. The tiny red battery light mocked me. So I’d forgotten to charge it. Whatever. I only needed to send one text.

The phone buzzed with an incoming message from Phoebe. Vampire sighting at Saint Louis Cemetery. Meet me there are soon as you land.

Dang it all. I hadn’t even had time to pee. I sighed and typed out a message to Talisen. Not two seconds after I hit send, the phone died.

***

Standing in front of New Orleans’ Saint Louis Cemetery, I checked my watch. Twenty minutes and no sign of Phoebe. Just perfect. What was I going to do, wait all night? Clutching the handle of my suitcase, I squared my shoulders and strode through the gates, dragging my suitcase behind me. I might’ve laughed at the absurdity of the situation if it hadn’t been for the very real threat I could pass out at any moment. Faeries never—never—spent time in cemeteries, and if they did, they sure as hell wouldn’t bring half their wardrobe.

The moldy dampness mixed with the stale, rancid stench of decay turned my stomach. I kept my mouth clamped shut. Tasting death would only kill me faster. I scanned the rows of tombs and cursed myself for forgetting to charge my cell… again.

Where the hell was Phoebe?

Darkness swam at the edge of my vision and panic sparked a healthy dose of adrenaline through my veins. Time was up. If I didn’t want to check into death’s hotel permanently, I had two options: find Phoebe or get my ass out of there. It wasn’t much of a choice. If I’d known where the witch was, I would’ve found her already.

Damn it! I’d never bailed on a job before. With a grunt of disgust, I fled.

My mind turned hazy, my thoughts jumbled. A second later my limbs went numb, and I stumbled. Forcing myself up, I struggled to place one foot in front of the other. My eyes never wavered from the exit. If I could just make it to the street, to one of the giant oak trees, everything would be fine.

My head would clear and feeling would creep back into my limbs. Life would flow again. Ten more feet and I’d be free, hugging the old oak, my body sucking up the life force it needed. Almost there.
A thick, honey-like sensation skimmed my bare skin. I froze.

Vampire.

Shit! I had to warn Phoebe. It was my job. I turned, intending to run back into the heart of the cemetery. But my feet wouldn’t move. The death sealed within the tombs had sucked too much energy from my body, robbing me of the ability to take one more step. I sank to my knees, still clutching my suitcase as I stared at the front gates. Maybe I could crawl my way out.

A shadow fell over me, blocking the moonlight. My breath caught. I didn’t need to look up to know what towered over me. Vampire. He was there, inches away, his presence pinning me to the ground. My strange vampire-sensing ability prevented me from moving.

Slowly, I raised my head. My vision swam and all I could make out was a double vision of a tall, dark-haired vampire. This was it. Another moment and either his death energy would suck me dry or his fangs would. I prayed I passed out before I had to endure either one.

A low, vicious growl sounded behind me, followed by a blur of white fur as a wolf leapt over me, landing with his hackles raised and teeth bared. My heart pounded with fear and relief. My mind continued to buzz in confusion, but I knew one thing. Link, my wolf, was there. Maybe I wouldn’t die.

Footsteps pounded on the bricks, and a shout rang out, followed by a commotion. A moment later, all the action stopped, and the vampire energy faded. My limbs started to tingle and my mind cleared. “Phoebe?” I asked, glancing around.

“Right here.” She appeared by my side and helped me up. “Come on. You need a tree.”

The moment she propped me against the large oak, life energy rushed through my veins, clearing all the cobwebs and revitalizing my energy. I sighed in relief and reached a hand out to pet Link.

He licked my hand and then shimmered with gold right before he morphed into his normal Shih Tzu form. He jumped into my arms, lavishing me with tickling kisses.

I laughed. “Link, buddy. I missed you. Thanks for saving my butt.”

At the sound of my voice, the Shih Tzu’s tongue went into overdrive, licking me everywhere from the neck up. “I’m glad to see you, too, boy.” His little body shook and wiggled against my chest as he tried to get as close as possible. Hugging him to me, I buried my face in his fur.

“Welcome home,” Phoebe said from somewhere nearby.

I jerked my head up, spotting my roommate leaning against her car a few feet away. Her normally short, spiky hair was concealed by a sleek black wig, styled in a high bun. She wore a belted green tunic over her black leggings. Sensible low-heeled, knee-high boots completed the ensemble. She looked exactly like the free-spirited, hippie-type artists that populated the city. Only they likely didn’t have a knife in each boot and magic-wielding stones tucked in their pockets.

“What happened?” I asked.

“What do you think happened? You almost passed out. Would have, too, if Link and I hadn’t been there.” Phoebe lit a cigarette and took a long drag. “Fuck, Willow, why didn’t you wait for me at the gate?”

I scowled. Phoebe knew how much I hated smoking. It wasn’t that it was just an annoyance; it made me physically ill. Thankfully she only smoked when she was really stressed. “I did wait! For twenty minutes. What was I supposed to do, stand there all night like bait?”

“It beats checking into the City of the Dead.” Phoebe took another long drag. “You could’ve sent me a text.”

I clamped my mouth shut and focused on Link’s scruffy coat. He needed a groomer ASAP. Looked as though Phoebe hadn’t brushed him once in the two months I’d been gone.

“Wil?” Phoebe prompted, her accusatory tone implying she already knew what I was going to say.

“It’s dead.” I reluctantly met her gaze.

“Again?” Phoebe narrowed her eyes and shook her head. “One of these days, that lazy habit is going to cost you your life.”

“Give me a break. I just got off the freakin’ plane. I’m not even supposed to be on duty again until early next week. At least I remembered to turn it back on before it died.” The only reason I’d even gotten Phoebe’s message was because I’d promised to text Tal as soon as I got off the plane. And for once I hadn’t forgotten. How could I? The embrace we’d shared at the Sacramento airport had burned an imprint on my skin.

I shook my head. Tal was a childhood friend, my brother’s best friend. It was better not to think about it. I set Link down and leaned against the oak again. “Thanks for getting me out.”

Phoebe shrugged. “Not like I could leave you there.”

“What are we doing here, anyway? No self-respecting vampire hangs out in a cemetery.”

“This one does, apparently,” Phoebe said.

“How cliché.”

“No shit, right?” Phoebe took one last drag and snuffed out the cigarette. “But he’s gone now, so I guess we’ll have to try again tomorrow.”

“You lost him?” My eyes went wide with shock. Phoebe was one of the best agents in the Void. I couldn’t remember the last time she hadn’t caught whoever she’d been sent to eliminate.

“It was either you or him.” Phoebe grabbed the suitcase. “Come on. It was a mistake to call you out here after you spent hours on a plane.”

I lifted one shoulder. It was true. I shouldn’t have been working a case after being confined in metal for such a long time.

Living, breathing things filled me up, left me powerful and strong, while metal, concrete, and death sucked me dry. On any other day, the cemetery wouldn’t have affected me as fast or as strongly. I would’ve been weakened by it, but I’d have had plenty of time to find Phoebe, who had the power to shield my energy from being leeched. We’d both been stupid.

“Sorry,” she said. “I didn’t realize it would be that bad.”

I smiled and fell in step beside her. “It’s okay. Neither did I. Now, tell me about the case.”

“Not much to tell. A cemetery-tour group was attacked last night. The third attack in a week, but this time someone died. The guide identified the attacker as a vampire. So, we’ve… well, I’ve been dispatched, but you know how I hate to work alone.” Phoebe grinned sheepishly.

Yeah. Over the last few years—ever since we’d figured out my unique abilities—Phoebe had stopped running down vampires alone. Who could blame her? My talent was invaluable when dealing with vamps.

“Seems pretty open and shut then,” I said.

Phoebe nodded, then heaved the suitcase into the trunk of her green Camry. “Jeez, that’s heavy.”

The locks clicked, and I reached for the door. Then I went completely still. The heavy, sticky sensation of death settled on my skin, ever so slowly leeching my life energy. Not enough to weaken me. Just enough to put me on high alert.

“Wait,” I said before Phoebe could disappear into the car. “Can I get a cigarette first?”

She cast me a questioning glance but passed a cigarette over and held out a lit lighter. I leaned in and mouthed, He’s still here, then puffed the smoke to life. My eyes watered and my lungs constricted in protest, but I managed to appear cool and collected. Sort of. Until I coughed as I exhaled.

Phoebe, clearly holding back laughter, grabbed the cigarette and took a short drag before crushing it with her shoe. “You don’t need any more bad habits.”

Ha! As if I would take up smoking. Faeries didn’t smoke. At least none I knew. I jerked my head, signaling Phoebe to follow.

“Link,” I called. The Shih Tzu bounded up next to me, his normally brown eyes glowing gold. “Keep it together, boy,” I soothed. He yelped softly and then put his nose to the ground, intent on the search. “Good boy.”

“Jesus,” Phoebe said under her breath.

I ignored her. Link had saved Phoebe’s ass numerous times. Which more than made up for ruining her favorite ritual robes and her suede boots. Besides, that had been months ago. He was only a puppy, and he was learning.

We strolled along the outer wall of the cemetery, quiet and alert. The only sound came from Link’s insistent sniffing. I slowed when the sticky sensation intensified; I was swimming in it. Link’s nose went into overdrive at the base of a magnolia tree, his tail wagging in excitement. He’d found something.

In unison, we both looked up.

Right there on a lower limb, the vampire sat watching us. I squinted, trying to make out his features, a habit instilled by the Void’s training. Eliminators were sent to eliminate. Mistakes were not tolerated. Always identify the perpetrator before the deathblow. Not that I had any idea who we’d been looking for. Phoebe hadn’t given me the details.

I took a step back, offering her the stage.

Curious thing about my ability—I could sense a vampire within a mile radius if I concentrated. It was the reason I’d been recruited to the Void branch of the Arcane—the government-sanctioned supernatural authority—two years ago. Prior to that, I’d just been Phoebe’s normal faery roommate, spending my days running The Fated Cupcake. Now I was super Willow. Baker by day and badass vampire stalker by night.

Link hovered protectively at my heels. My job was done. Despite having other magical abilities, they weren’t ones that could help Phoebe take down a vampire. Not unless he was a diabetic, anyway. Thank the Fae Lords I had Link and his supernatural abilities to protect me, because if anything went wrong, Phoebe would have her hands full.
Link was already trembling and emitting an amber glow.

Uh-oh.

I crouched, running a soothing hand over his white and gray fur. “It’s okay, boy. Phoebe’s got this.”

“Kind of unoriginal, taking out tourists at Marie Laveau’s tomb, don’t you think?” Phoebe taunted him, taking a step to her left to get a better view of her suspect. “You vamps, always going after the easy marks. Where’s your pride?”

A low chuckle rumbled from the branch.

“Wil, I think our friend finds us amusing.” Phoebe gripped her black agate crystal.

“Just you,” the vamp replied, his voice as deep and gritty as a thirty-year chain-smoker. “She’s interesting, as well as that dog of hers, but I’ve been looking forward to this matchup for some time.”

A grin broke on Phoebe’s profile and her eyes glittered. “Oh, good. A challenge.”

The hooded figure leapt from the branch a second before Phoebe blasted the spot with her sunlight-infused agate. The branch sizzled and, with a deafening crack, landed inches from where Phoebe had been standing.

“Holy fae,” I breathed and took off after Phoebe, who was now sprinting to catch the vampire. She sped up, periodically flashing her agate, trying to stun him. His reflexes proved to be far superior to the average vampire’s, and I suspected this one had been around much longer than most. He alternated back and forth from the tree limbs to the cemetery wall in smooth, graceful movements, deliberately waiting for Phoebe to make a move before leaping.

He was playing with her.

At the end of the cemetery, the vampire turned and looked Phoebe in the eye. “What else you got, witch?”

Phoebe stopped yards ahead of me, her tiny, lithe body seeming to grow a few inches. She lifted her left hand straight out, palm up and shouted, “Siste!”

Her long, glossy black hair fell from its bun, whipping straight back in the windless night.

The power behind the spell rooted me to the path, frozen in a running pose. Link was a few yards ahead of her, suspended in midair, his face scrunched up in a snarl. The vampire’s laughter rang clear as he bounded onto a nearby rooftop and disappeared.

“Fuck!” Phoebe shouted as the power dissipated.

With the spell broken, I lost my balance and fell face-first on the hard brick sidewalk.

Link shot ahead, his little legs never breaking the run. His body shimmered gold before his limbs gave way, expanding until he’d grown to ten times his normal size. Once again in wolf form, he shot out of sight, sprinting after the vampire.

I groaned and rolled over, staring into Phoebe’s exhausted face. “You all right?”

She offered me a hand. “Yeah, but shit. I lost him.”

“How’d he do that?” I’d never seen a vampire manipulate her magic before. “It’s like he blocked it.”

“He deflected the spell, and it hit you and Link instead.” She rubbed her temple. “I don’t know how. I’ll need to do some research.”

I nodded. “I can’t sense him anymore, he must be long gone. We better go find Link before animal control gets him again.” The last time they’d picked him up as a wolf, he’d turned back into a Shih Tzu before I could claim him. The paperwork confusion had been a nightmare.

“You go ahead. I’ll grab the car and catch up.”

“Okay. Be safe. I’ll keep an eye out for you.” Smiling, I flew to the nearest rooftop.

I spotted Link within moments. He was racing around the corner at the end of the street, his white coat gleaming in the moonlight. Had he picked up the vamp’s trail or had Phoebe’s magic sent him into a frenzy? I couldn’t feel the vampire, so it must have been the magic.

Or could I? My limbs were weighted as if the air was heavy, and my lungs had to work harder for oxygen. Something was off, though. It didn’t feel the same as the sticky, swimming death I’d experienced earlier. The sensation pressed lightly and then all at once clung to me.

A vampire was close. Really, really close. But why did it feel so different?

My heart picked up as panic set in. Link was blocks away. Phoebe was in the car somewhere, and I was alone on a roof.

Why had I taken off by myself? Stupid, stupid, stupid.

I glanced around at the half-deserted neighborhood. A stone settled in my gut as recognition dawned. I was on vampire property. In the years after hurricane Katrina, the city had swelled with vampires. Drawn to the despair and lawlessness, the vampire population had more than tripled.

At first, they helped the struggling economy by buying up blocks of decimated homes. Unfortunately, they only rebuilt the one they lived in and left the others to rot. The perfect way to discourage neighbors. Vamps had been known to do a lot worse for privacy.

I scanned the streets for Phoebe’s car or a glimpse of Link. If I could find either of them I’d be fine. The silence grated. Alone on a roof with no cell phone and a vampire lying in wait. Now what?

I stretched my wings, fluttering a few feet off the rooftop. Flying always gave me a sense of control. I couldn’t cover a lot of ground, but I could move pretty quickly if I needed to. Faster than sprinting, anyway.

The sticky sensation stayed with me, but as I flew, the intensity lessened. Maybe he was in the building.

The thought didn’t put me at ease one little bit. Vamps were impossibly fast. If one had spotted me… Link reappeared at the end of the block.

“Finally.” I flexed my wings and shot toward the edge of the building.

“Willow?”

I spun. My wings stilled mid-flutter as pleasure heated my insides. I knew that voice and missed it more than I cared to admit. Managing to land gracefully on shaky legs, I peered through the moonlight. “David?”

He nodded.

Relief washed through my body at the sight of him, uncurling the knot I’d forgotten existed in my stomach. I took a step closer and froze.

Thick honey vampire energy clung to me and it was coming from my ex.

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