Blood and Kisses - By Karin Shah
The corpse on the stainless steel table wasn’t Lily. It couldn’t be.
Lily’s skin glowed with a peachy tan, nothing like the icy pallor of this poor soul. Her cousin’s lips were fuller too, the lines of her face more angular. And her eyes, well this woman’s eyes were closed, but there was no way she had summer-sky eyes like Lily’s. And Lily’s hair had been golden, not this dull sandy blonde.
Thalia Kent shook her head in denial, closing her eyes against the burn of tears. Death had bleached the brightness of her cousin’s skin and hair, stolen the plumpness from her lips and bloated her face, but despite the protests of Thalia’s grieving mind, the lifeless body before her was Lily.
Thalia leaned forward, tracing the contours of her cousin’s beloved face. The grinding ache in her chest made it hard to breathe.
Lily looked so cold lying there under the merciless lights. Thalia knew it made no sense, but she reached out a shaking hand to tug the thin sheet a little higher.
Lily’s eyes flew open, pupils glowing red. Thalia recoiled, swallowing a scream. Lily lurched up and clamped Thalia’s wrist with a hand transformed into a frigid claw. Her pointed nails bit into Thalia’s flesh. Thalia wrenched her arm back, trying to break free, but Lily was too strong. Her cousin snarled, exposing two-inch fangs, and pulled Thalia closer. A glacial wave of terror washed over her.
Lily’s eyes flashed red-hot. “You’re next,” she said.
Air exploded into Thalia’s lungs with a whoosh as she sat up in bed. Panting, she gazed into the darkness of her room. Sweat chilled her bare skin. Dread constricted her chest.
A nightmare. That’s all it was. Nothing but a terrifying dream—except the first part had been real.
Lily was dead.
And although Thalia was certainly the weakest witch of her family line, she knew the second part of the nightmare for what it was—a prophetic dream.
She was being watched.
The feeling had arrived with the dream two nights ago, and now it crawled across Thalia’s skin like a spider. Adrenaline spiked the tiny hairs at her nape.
Swallowing, she scanned the dark street where she waited. Streetlights and neon signs gave the deep shadows the buildings cast the murderous edge of a razor. A thumping baseline vibrated from the nearby club. She stuffed a hand inside her purse and grasped the polished wooden stake. In the days since Lily's murder, she hadn't gone anywhere without the weapon.
She turned full circle, eyes struggling to cut through the shadows. Her heart skittered, her lungs fought for air.
Nothing. No movement. No spooky shapes or glowing eyes.
But still the feeling pressed down on her like a veil, whispered that she was not alone, that something dark and malevolent lurked somewhere, just out of sight.
Why hadn’t she asked Damek to meet her somewhere safe?
Get a grip, Thalia.
Two nights without sleep had her jumping at shadows. Whatever was out there, she could handle. She had to. It was her job.
She was the Champion. If she’d had a card, it might have read, “Got magical malfeasance?” Like her mother before her, problems or crimes of a magical nature were her business. Too bad she wasn’t half the witch her mother had been.
Thalia surveyed the area again, straining to ignore the sound of her heart thundering in her ears. She muttered a searching spell and reached deep within to find the energy to turn the spell from words to intent.
Tiny blue stars, visible only to magical eyes, danced in front of her, as if born from the air, then coalesced into a ribbon of shimmering light. The streamer of energy surged to her, waist high, then spun away, weaving around street signs and telephone poles. A fine sweat chilled her cheeks and forehead as she struggled to give the spell purpose while readying her body for a physical attack. Her legs began to weaken.
Dammit. Unable to spare more energy for the spell, Thalia let the power die into the humid air. Night blind from the sudden darkness, she groped for the building behind her. The rough brick abraded her searching palms.
Something scraped the pavement nearby. A shape swept past the corner of her eye. Still blind, she had no choice but to attack. She whirled, brandishing the wooden stake and launched a double front kick in the direction of the motion. The two-legged kick landed hard, and the figure, a man by his outline, went down easily.
Too easily. Took her with him. For a moment, the air was