Finding the perfect dress can be hell… especially when a stranger tries to gun you down in broad daylight.
Void agent and magical baker extraordinaire, Willow Rhoswen has been anticipating her first date with Talisen Kavanagh since she was sixteen. After eight years of waiting, there are only two things that can stand in her way—an assassination attempt and a new game-changing drug.
Talisen’s invented a new elixir that creates superhumans, ones that can rival vampire strength, and everyone wants it. Including the vampires. With Willow’s life on the line, he makes a deal with the devil, while she’s forced to accept the always-strings-attached protection from the most notorious vampire organization in New Orleans.
But when Talisen and his drug go missing, Willow will stop at nothing to find him, even if it means working with her vampire-ex, David. With souped-up humans, dangerous vampires, and more questions than answers, Willow has less than twenty-four hours to find him before everything changes forever.
“I look like a flying giraffe.” I scowled at my roommate, Phoebe, in the three-way mirror. “What were you thinking, making me try on this travesty?”
Phoebe, dressed in a miniskirt and tight red T-shirt, rolled her eyes. “You said you’d try on anything. And look at this dress. The cut is gorgeous. It’s hugging you in all the right places, girl.”
I crossed my arms over my chest and flared my wings in agitation. “I look ridiculous.” There was no freaking way I was wearing a formfitting giraffe-print dress on my first official date with Talisen. That was a hell no. “You’re just trying to torture me because I wouldn’t buy the last dress you decided I needed.”
She placed her hands on her hips. “That dress was perfect for you and guaranteed to bring Talisen to his knees.”
“It would bring the majority of the male population to their knees. I think there’s more material in a toddler’s outfit than that scrap of cotton.”
“Whatever you say, Wil.” She began digging in another rack of dresses. “Try on the hunter-green one next.”
“Gladly.” I wrinkled my nose at the offending animal print one more time and moved toward the dressing room.
“Hold on.” Phoebe trotted over to me, holding yet another crime against fashion.
“Electric yellow with sequins? Have you lost your mind?” I laughed, wondering if she’d been dipping into a dose of Illusions, an illegal vamp-made, psychedelic street drug. They tasted like candy and were often handed out at college parties. Not that Phoebe was in college, but she did spend time at the universities when she was on undercover missions, running down rogue vampires.
“It’s perfect for you.” She grabbed my arm and leaned in, almost dragging me to my dressing room. “Keep walking,” she whispered.
“Shh.” With her head bent to mine, she said, “I noticed the blond guy two stores back, but I just caught him taking a picture of you with his phone. He’s definitely a tail.”
Crap, crap, crap! Was the vampire Asher following me again? Had he found out about my ability to turn vamps into daywalkers? Or worse, about my nephew’s existence, who probably had the same skill? A ripple of panic skated through me. I jerked unconsciously, wanting to see who was behind us, but Phoebe’s hand tightened on my forearm until I winced.
“Jesus, Wil. Are you an agent of the Void or what? Don’t turn around.” Technically I was an agent, but only because I could sense vampires. Phoebe was the badass witch who could actually run them down and neutralize them if they were tagged as a danger to society. She shoved the dress into my hands. “Take this and try it on like everything’s normal. I’ll see about apprehending him. Then we can have some fun interrogating his ass.”
“You’re just going to take him down right here in front of the shop clerk?” Goddess above, that could get messy. “What if he’s a witch? A bystander could get seriously hurt.”
She paused outside my dressing room door, her face contorted with mock offense as she shook her head, her hand clutching her heart. “Jeez, you have such little faith. It pains me to say it, but I don’t know if we can be friends anymore. But don’t worry, he’s human.”
I shook my head, stifling a laugh. Knowing he was human put me at ease. Phoebs could take him while blindfolded and chained to a wall. All she needed was a little witch power and he’d be no more dangerous than a two-week-old puppy. “Just don’t cause a scene like last time when you spelled that poor schmuck into stripping for the entire restaurant.”
Her eyes glittered with the memory. “Now that was something to see.”
That guy had been sent undercover to evaluate Phoebe’s performance as a Void agent. Phoebe was a vampire hunter for the Void branch of the Arcane—the government agency that oversees all supernatural activity. Void agents, such as herself, worked undercover and moved without boundaries. She’d had no way of knowing the guy tailing her was a colleague. When she failed to ditch him, she spiked his drink with an inhibition spell and then flirted with him until he did a rendition of The Full Monty.
“He was… uh, built in all the right places,” I said.
Phoebe snickered. “Yes. Yes he was. Too bad he transferred right after that.” She shrugged. “Some people are too sensitive.” She held the yellow dress out to me. “Get moving while I go take the stalker down. I know he’s only a human, but I’m not taking any chances. Someone sent him for a reason.”
Her words sobered me. Being human didn’t mean he wasn’t a threat. Someone probably had sent him. I stared at the offending dress still in her hands. “I’m going, but don’t think for a moment I’m putting that on.”
“Fine. Just take it into the dressing room to keep up appearances.”
I disappeared behind the door and grimaced at my reflection. It really was too bad the giraffe dress didn’t come in another print or even a solid color, because Phoebs was right. The cut accentuated curves I hadn’t even known existed. I undid the side zipper and was slipping my wings out of the back slits when the dressing room door creaked open.
“This one had better not have sequins or anything that belongs in the zoo.” I turned, expecting Phoebe, and let out a gasp as I clutched the dress to my chest, covering myself.
David, my ex, moved with vampire speed and clamped his hand over my mouth. “Shh.”
I glared, stepping back until I was pressed up against the mirror, half-naked in one of the ugliest dresses ever. What the hell was he doing out in the middle of the day? Stalking me? Had he put the tail on us? I grabbed his arm, trying fruitlessly to break away from his hold. Then I kicked at his shin and winced when my bare toe connected with his marble-like frame.
“Calm down,” he said softly, his midnight-blue eyes locked on mine. “I’ll let go if you’ll be quiet. I have some news.”
Even though David was a vampire, he’d never intentionally hurt me. At least not physically. Less than two weeks ago, I’d found out he’d spent the better part of a year protecting me. Reluctantly, I nodded.
His hand slid from my mouth and he took a tiny step back.
My lips tingled from his touch and I wanted to kick him all over again. I hated that his touch still had an effect on me, even when I wanted to clock him for being a dominating a-hole. I glanced in the mirror and tugged the dress higher, trying for some semblance of decency. “What are you doing in my dressing room? Couldn’t you have waited outside?”
“We can’t be seen together.”
I sighed. Of course we couldn’t. In fact, he shouldn’t be seen during the day at all. If word got out he was a daywalker… “Go home, David.” I nervously peeked over the dressing-room stall. “You’re going to get us both killed if anyone sees you.”
“No one is going to see me in here.” His lips quirked up into an appreciative smile as his gaze traveled the length of my barely covered body. He glanced at the dresses hanging to the left. “What’s the occasion?”
I bit back a groan and stared him down. “I have a date.”
The smile vanished and he straightened, his six-foot-two frame taking up almost all my personal space. His perfect lips formed into a straight line. “I see.”
I didn’t know what to say to that. A week ago, David had told me he still loved me. That he’d never stopped. But he was a vampire and I was a faery. Faeries and vampires did not date. Ever. Vamps embody death while fae thrive on life. Me especially. Being around vampires could make me physically ill. Besides, he’d lied and kept vital information about my brother’s death from me for months.
“It’s with Talisen,” I blurted, angry all over again at his betrayal.
David’s eyes narrowed and he slowly backed up, finally giving me some room. The gesture only made me feel that much more exposed. After a tense moment of silence, he cut his eyes to glance over the door. “That’s none of my business.”
“That’s right. It isn’t.” I clutched the dress tighter to my chest. “Now leave so I can get dressed.”
“No.” He met my gaze with a cold, determined stare.
“What do you mean, no? Get out.”
“I came to deliver a message.”
His tone sent a shiver through my wings. The kind that put me on full alert. “What’s wrong?”
“Eadric wants to see you at sunset, but not at the club. We can’t risk having you seen there. We’ll meet you at Hotel La Blanchet.”
This is what he accosted me in the dressing room for? To set up a meeting with Eadric Allcot, the master vampire and unofficial leader of New Orleans? The last time, I’d been summoned by a written letter. Now he’d sent David to demand my presence. What was next, an armed escort? “Why? What’s so important?”
“It’s about the Void. Eadric has information.”
“What information?” I worked for the Void branch of the Arcane also, and recently I’d been target number one due to my unusual abilities.
He shrugged. “I’m not sure. Father wasn’t forthcoming.”
Well, crap on toast. We had a new director and I hadn’t even met her yet. Was I trading one nightmare for another?
“Also, you’re being watched.” He jerked his head toward the front of the store.
“You don’t say,” I said with a fair amount of sarcasm and waved an impatient hand in front of him. “I know that already. Phoebe spotted him. I have a phone. You could’ve left a message. We’re not idiots.”
He raised a skeptical eyebrow. “Really? Is it on you?” His gaze raked over my body once more, as if to say he highly doubted it.
Of course I didn’t have my phone on me. I was barely dressed. “It’s in my purse.” I waved a hand toward the corner. “A text would’ve been just fine,” I forced out through clenched teeth. “Or you could’ve called Phoebe.”
This was ridiculous. I was starting to think he just wanted to get a peek at my faery bits. Perv.
David moved in closer, this time putting his chilled hands on my shoulders. “We both know you don’t ever check your phone. But that’s beside the point. Your phones might be tapped, and I couldn’t risk anyone knowing we’re in touch.”
“Tapped?” Fear started to crawl over my skin. Why would anyone tap our phones? I frantically tried to recall if Phoebe and I had talked about anything damaging over the phone during the last week. I didn’t think so. It wasn’t as if I used the thing that much, but I couldn’t be sure.
“Tell Phoebe to sweep your house. Father wants you at the hotel by six p.m. He’ll fill you in on what he knows then. Bring the fae with you.”
I bristled at his use of the fae for Talisen. There wasn’t any love between vampires and fae. As far as I knew, I was the only one the vamps associated with. “I just told you I have a date with him tonight. I’m not going to bring him to the hotel to meet you and Allcot.” Talk about awkward.
David’s emotionless eyes softened for a moment. “If he cares for you at all, he’ll understand. If not, then he doesn’t deserve you.”
He moved to open the door, but I clamped my hand on his rock-hard arm. “Are Carrie and Beau all right?” My nephew Beau and his mother, Carrie, lived in one of Allcot’s apartments above his club on Frenchmen Street. Beau’s life would be in danger if anyone found out he existed. Even though I didn’t care for Allcot, I had to admit the safest place for my nephew was under his care.
“For now. We’ll talk later.” He glanced back at the dresses lining the wall. “Wear the blue one.”
And before I could say anything else, he was gone.
Standing alone in the dressing room, a cold sweat broke out over my body, and I shivered under the air-conditioning. A harsh reality settled over me. It had been over a week since I’d seen my ex, and I’d almost convinced myself I was happy about that. Right up until the moment he’d appeared before me. Even if he had just put a major kink in my date with Tal.
Talisen. A sigh got caught in my throat. Tonight was our first date. I’d grown up with Tal. He’d been my teenage crush and was my best friend. I’d waited a long time for this night. And Eadric Allcot, master vampire, head of Cryrique, was already ruining it. Damn vamps.
I ditched the giraffe dress, bypassed the electric-yellow calamity, and pulled out the “blue” dress David had alluded to. Upon closer inspection, it was actually a deep plum. The perfect color to go with my auburn hair.
Still flustered, I stepped into the backless, figure-hugging dress and tied the halter-top bodice around my neck. Then I left the dressing room to inspect myself in the three-way mirror. Two steps out of the room, a startled gasp stopped me in my tracks.
On high alert, I jumped back, ready to use the door as a shield. Why did I have to be attacked while wearing a backless dress and no shoes? Talk about feeling vulnerable.
“Willow, it’s amazing,” Phoebe exclaimed and yanked me back out of the room.
“Phoebe!” I clutched a hand to my racing heart. “You scared the crap out of me. How long have you been standing there?”
“Long enough to know you didn’t try on the yellow dress. But who cares? This one is perfect. Talisen is going to strain something just looking at you.” She spun me around, pointing me at the three-way mirror.
“Whoa.” The dress was… well, perfect. As if it were made for me. It was formfitting, yet not too tight. The top was a tasteful halter, but the back was jaw-dropping. My wings were on full display with the rest of my tanned flesh exposed. Sexy. I’d never felt so beautiful. “You’re right. This is it.”
She threaded her arm through mine. “I think our mission is complete. Unless you’re dying to try on the yellow one?” She wiggled her eyebrows.
I rolled my eyes. “Not on your life.”
She grinned and checked her watch. “Then get changed. We have more shopping to do.”
“What happened to the stalker?”
Her grin soured. “He saw me coming and jumped into a waiting SUV. He’s been spotted. If he’s stupid enough to show his face again, he’ll be lucky if I don’t break both his arms.”
Well, that was unsettling. Phoebe headed to the front of the store to keep watch while I changed as fast as I could before hightailing it to the register, more than ready to leave. The checkout clerk was busy folding cardigan sweaters and didn’t even look up. “Excuse me,” I said with a smile.
“Just a minute,” she snapped.
My smile faltered. I bit back a snarky reply and waited. But when she pulled a phone out of her back pocket and started texting, I lost the battle. “I’m sorry, but we’re in a hurry. Can I pay for this?”
“I said—” Her eyes went wide with shock as she stared over my shoulder.
I spun just in time to see a man clutching a gun reach out and wrap his arm around my neck. My left wing was smashed between us and sent a dart of pain through my left side as he pulled me tight against his body. “Come quietly and no one needs to get hurt.”
I swallowed a cry of protest and met the trembling clerk’s eyes. Her mouth opened in silent shock as she backed up and stumbled over her feet. She went down with a yelp of surprise at the same time Phoebe appeared in my peripheral vision and yelled, “Freeze!”
Holy fae. She had blood trickling down the side of her face. He must’ve attacked her first. How had a human gotten the jump on her?
“Son of a bitch,” my attacker muttered and spun me around, his arm cutting off my airway. My eyes bugged out as I scrabbled at his hold.
“Let her go, or I’ll be putting you in a body bag in about three seconds,” Phoebe demanded, flashing her sun agate at him. What was she going to do, blind him with it?
Light flared from the agate and my attacker stumbled back.
Oh, shit. That’s exactly what she’d done. I threw myself to the right, barely avoiding a collision with a rack of accessories.
The gun went off with a thwap and the next moment a crackle of magic exploded, illuminating the store in a brilliant flash of blue lightning.
Trembling with delayed adrenaline, I crawled from under a garment rack and peered around. Who the hell was that guy, and what did he want? Phoebe was standing in front of our frozen attacker, rubbing her jaw thoughtfully. The gun lay at her feet. Good Goddess. That was close. He’d been stunned and wouldn’t be moving another muscle until she reversed her magic.
I turned and caught sight of the clerk. She was chalk white, also frozen in place, except she had tears streaming down her face and instead of being spelled, fear had rendered her incapable of moving. She didn’t even answer her ringing phone.
“Who sent him?” I asked Phoebe.
“Don’t know. But since the bastard coldcocked me and tried to take you, this is Arcane business. I’ll call it in.”
“He coldcocked you?” My voice rose in sheer disbelief.
She nodded and touched the cut on her head. “He came out of nowhere. The bastard has some sort of training.”
“What the hell is going on?”
“I don’t know, but we’re sure going to try to find out.” She kicked our attacker. “God help him after the interrogators get to him.”
Forcing myself to maintain some sort of normalcy, I turned back to the clerk. My dress was still sitting on the counter. “Can I check out now?”
She didn’t appear to hear me as she started to shake and slid back down to the floor. “Dammit,” I muttered. Humans. I walked around the counter. The register was almost identical to the ones we used at my shop, The Fated Cupcake. “I’m sorry. But this dress is too good to leave here. If you don’t mind, I’ll just check myself out.”
Her vacant eyes met mine, and she gave me one tiny nod. I was certain she wasn’t registering what she’d agreed to, but there was no way in hell I was leaving my perfect dress.