BLOOD AND MAGIC

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An ancient, ruthless vampire. A gutsy witch hippie. Both walk into a bar.

And all hell breaks loose.

From USA Today bestselling author Ilana Waters:

Bloodseeker Titus isn’t looking for trouble—just a quick meal. But when his path crosses the witch Abigail’s, that plan gets shot to Hades.

Abigail is a member of the Paranormal Investigation Agency (PIA), a secret organization that can spell death to supernaturals. Titus vows to stay as far away from her as possible. But when Abigail suspects a high-ranking PIA member of a monstrous plot, she vows to investigate. For that, she needs Titus’s special skills.

Against his will, Titus is swept into a world of exploding gas mains, lethal bird-shifters, and sadistic vampire minions. The only way out? Uncover the PIA’s murderous secret. Which means going up against the powerful figure at the center of it all. The only problem is, that person will stop at nothing to get what they want.

Even if it means destroying every supernatural in their path.

 

Chapter 1

 

The evening was turning out to be more interesting than Titus anticipated.

Perhaps it was the other vampires he’d just finished killing, their mangled bodies littering the pub floor. Or it could have been the three still left, eyeing him warily from behind the half-crushed jukebox. But Titus had a feeling it was the woman crouched next to him, staring intently at the vampires.

He had to admit, she looked devilishly angelic, with dark curls framing her face and a keen glint in her brown eyes. A silver chain with a Star of David dangled around her smooth neck. Early thirties, perhaps? It was hard to tell. Her body seemed firm enough under the tight tank top with spaghetti straps, her tense arm muscles ending in bangle-laden wrists. Harder to tell the condition of her legs beneath the long, flowing skirt—not that it stopped him from speculating.

Yes, in any other context, she’d be a toothsome little distraction. One he could slake a variety of hungers with. But right now, several yards across from them, it was the exposed gas line that had his attention.

“Look, Sliver—” one of the other vampires started, a Cockney accent thickening his voice.

“Silver,” she snapped. “It’s Abigail Silver, you malevolent reprobate.”

“Fine. Silver. Whatever you told Jenks your name was before Mr. Blue Eyes over there snapped his neck in half.”

Mr. Blue Eyes? This insolent youth was next in line for neck-snapping.

“I don’t believe I told Mr. Jenks so much as caught him looking at my passport when he tried to snatch my purse.”

“Whatever. Just hand over the monkey, Silver, and no one gets hurt,” the vampire said smoothly. Titus could see his hairy-knuckled fingers flicking the cover of a cigarette lighter dangerously close to the gas line.

“Gee, why don’t I believe you?” With one hand, Abigail adjusted a small, tasseled bag slung crosswise against her hip. The other hand tightly clutched the green jade statue of a monkey. Her accent’s American, Titus realized. New York, perhaps?

“Because you’s a silly mortal who got her nose in where it don’t belong.” The vampire with the greasy leather vest over his bare chest cracked his knuckles. “Who sits around a pub taking notes on a pad, anyway?”

“None of your damn business, that’s who,” Abigail shot back, then gave Titus a look that said, Can you believe these guys? He blinked several times. The woman wasn’t as afraid of them as she should be. That was odd. She also seemed to think she and he shared some sort of camaraderie. That was not only odd, but to her, it could be fatal.

Just because I happened to be next to you, dear, when you caught that silly monkey doesn’t make me your friend. One of the low-watt bulbs left dangling from the ceiling buzzed on and off. When the melee had broken out, and the other vampires began tearing each other apart over the statue, Titus merely glanced up from his corner booth. He’d half hoped a good bar brawl would break up another night’s tedious hunt. It was too easy to go to pubs on the edge of town these days, then follow a straggler out the door and help him into oblivion.

But when a few vampires got shoved his way and began striking him, he was forced to deal with the situation. Titus lifted the other blood drinkers over his head and hurled them across the room. The mortal bartender and patrons wisely ran for their lives. The woman stayed.

Why didn’t she run away, like the others? he wondered. She didn’t seem shocked when the remaining patrons revealed themselves as vampires either. And why isn’t she afraid of me, the most lethal of all the predators here, only inches from her? She is either very brave, or very stupid. And what had she been doing here, all alone, calmly documenting these unbelievable events?

Blast. She had a block on her thoughts. Or she was just one of those mortals whose minds he couldn’t read. Not unless she let him, of course. Damn the luck. He tried to read the other vampires’ minds, but they all had blocks on theirs. Naturally. Experienced immortals weren’t foolish enough to let others peruse their thoughts.

Who cares why they want that ridiculous monkey, anyway? He hadn’t noticed the fist-sized statue flying through the air until the woman snatched it and ducked behind an overturned table next to him. Then, he realized the only vampires still alive had taken advantage of the hole behind them that got torn in the wall. It had left the gas line exposed. All they’d have to do was tear a piece of the pipe off—easily accomplished with a vampire’s strength—and ignite a flame. A single flicker from that imbecile’s lighter would do it. Then they’d all go up. Taking cover in this corner of the room made good tactical sense, the strange woman’s presence notwithstanding.

But now, they were in a standoff. The woman refused to relinquish the statue for fear the other vampires would kill her; a well-founded fear, by Titus’s account. They were afraid that if they moved to do so, she’d destroy the statue, which she’d already threatened to dash on the floor. Hell, I could easily crush it in my hand, if I had a mind, Titus thought. But one of the vampire’s hands—sheathed in a fingerless glove—was wrapped menacingly around the gas line pipe. All he’d have to do was lean forward and pull.

“None of our business, eh?” A bald, beady-eyed vampire with a number of tattoos sneered at her. “I’d say it’s exactly our business. Literally. Know a couple of blokes who’d pay a tidy sum to get their hands on that piece. And we aim to oblige ’em—sooner rather than later.” He pounded one fist into the other, his skull ring grinning.

“Yeah,” the vampire next to him said. “You’s standing between us and a nice profit, girly.” He kept flicking the lighter’s cover open and shut, open and shut. It was driving Titus mad. He took a deep breath to calm himself, to keep from flying across the room and strangling the little stain.

He wrinkled his nose. That deep breath had been a mistake. He caught several disagreeable odors. Mud tracked in from outside. The stale scent of fish-and-chips. Cigarettes. And just beneath that, the general stench of vomit and piss that squatted in places like these. For once, Titus wished his vampire senses weren’t quite so strong.

“You should know, we’re none too keen on things that stand between us and our dough,” growled the vampire in the leather vest. “A lot of people are after that little green fellow in your hand.”

Abigail’s brow furrowed. “Why? Is it magical?” She twisted a tiger’s-eye ring around her finger.

Titus glanced at the statue, and his nose twitched. But he neither smelled nor sensed any magic coming from the statue. He took a chance and inhaled again. This time, he caught a whiff of wisteria, or maybe hyacinth. A mortal perfume, most likely the woman’s. It was a strange combination to find in a grimy, graffiti-ridden pub. Still, it blended nicely with the scents of alcohol spilled on the floor, and vampire blood on the concrete walls. Perhaps vampire senses aren’t always such a bad thing.

“Magical?” the vampire with the lighter repeated. “Maybe. But why don’t you forget about that statue for a bit? Why don’t you come over here, sweetheart? Then you’ll see how magical I can truly be.” He and his companions laughed, and Titus saw the woman’s brow furrow again.

Yes, strange, isn’t it, dear, hearing a vampire laugh for the first time. It carried the same timbre it always did, like unearthly music. Many times, it was the last music a mortal would ever hear.

His eyes scanned the room for a way to dispose of the buffoon. But from his present position, he could see no easy disposal methods. Just features he knew mimicked his: the shining eyes, the smooth, pale skin pulled tautly over light blue veins. Fangs that were never as long or obvious as human dramatizations depicted. Just long enough to warrant a second glance from the astute observer. The vampires’ true ages were impossible to discern; they remained frozen in time at whatever age they were turned. For this group, that appears to be the age of inanity.

He could tell they were trying to woo her. Not with their feeble insinuations, of course, but with vampire glamour. Titus could feel it snaking across the room in waves.

“Yeah, we got some magic right here for ya, love.” The leather-vested vampire grabbed his none-too-impressive crotch.

The woman rolled her eyes. “Stop, or I won’t be able to control myself,” she said drily. To Titus, she mouthed, Who are these schmucks?

Crotch-Grabber realized his glamour wasn’t working. His smile faded, and he glanced darkly at his companions. The one with the lighter stopped opening and shutting the cover.

Enough. This had been a pleasant reprieve from Titus’s usual ennui. But these goons had ruined his black suit and custom Italian shoes, now covered in blood and assorted filth. Perhaps not ruined them personally, but they were indirectly responsible. And he was tired of crouching next to the woman behind the overturned table. Not that his muscles were fatigued—that rarely happened to vampires. No, he was irritated at having to cower behind this large, circular piece of wood. It wasn’t like him. The word “cower” and the name “Titus Aurelius” did not marry well.

“Gentlemen,” Titus said, “I’m sure you’ve enjoyed this little diversion as much as I have.” His voice deepened to a level that made most mortals soil themselves. “However, I have other things to do with my evening.” He looked past the overturned tables, past the stools with tufts of foam erupting from red plastic covers. Past the vampire he’d killed not long ago, feet sticking out from under the swinging door that led behind the bar. Finally, his gaze settled on the dusty glass bottles lining the shelves behind it. He narrowed his eyes at one, and it whizzed across the room, breaking itself over the tattooed vampire’s head.

Predictably, there was a roar of pain. The vampire stood up, as Titus knew he would, to do something foolish in rage. Titus started to stand up as well. Once I get rid of this half-wit, it’ll be one down, two to go. Then he could decide what to do with the woman. Maybe he’d even pocket the monkey as a souvenir.

The vampire did rush at Titus the way he expected. Gnashing his teeth, he wrenched a stool out of the floor and hurled it across the room. Titus ducked back behind the table just in time to see the stool smash a mirror above him and the woman. She shrieked as they were showered with broken glass. Titus covered her head with his arm so that the majority of the glass landed on his sleeve. The stool fell to the left of the woman in several broken pieces.

“Get back here, you daft twit!” The vampire with the cigarette lighter yanked his companion behind the jukebox. “Can’t you see he’s trying to goad you?”

Why did I shield her? Titus asked himself. The action had seemed instinctual, like a reflex. Yet his instinct was usually to kill mortals, not protect them. But he had no time to puzzle it out. The lot across from him needed sorting.

Next to him was another table, its leg welded to the floor. With one hand, Titus gave it a yank. The leg buckled easily between his fingers. Without leaving too much of his body exposed, he stood up just enough to lift the table over his head and heave it at the jukebox. The latter exploded in a dizzying array of sparks and broken glass.

So much for their cover, he thought with satisfaction. But the music machine was sturdier than he anticipated. The glass and plastic parts were gone, but the metal still provided a framework to shield the three vampires. They yelled heartily, calling him all sorts of names, and detailing the unkind things they’d do to him and the woman when they caught them.

Titus swore to himself and ducked back down. Everything else in this stink hole is cheap. They had to splurge on a quality jukebox? He would never understand mortals, even if he lived another two thousand years.

“Nice going,” the woman hissed. “You just made them madder.” She turned to him. “What did you say your name was again? Otitus Media? Gluteus Maximus?”

“Titus Aurelius,” he replied through gritted teeth. His eyes darted furiously to the right and left. But there was only one way out of the pub, as the other vampires were blocking the back exit.

“We could make a run for it.” As if reading his mind, the woman jutted her chin at the front door. “I can turn myself invisible a little. That might help.”

Turn herself invisible? Could she be a fellow witch? Titus wondered. She certainly wasn’t a vampiric hybrid, like him. Nor was she a natural witch; he would have sensed it immediately. And she couldn’t have read his thoughts; he would’ve felt the breach in his mind’s defenses. It seemed they just thought alike. Disturbing.

“I could turn us both completely invisible,” he said, “but it still wouldn’t help. As soon as they realized what we’d done, they’d blow us into next Tuesday.”

“Wouldn’t lighting up the gas main blow them up too?”

“I think that’s a chance they’re willing to take.”

Abigail nodded. “They do seem very intent on getting their monkey.”

“Oy, you stupid cow!” the tattooed vampire snarled. “Enough of this shite. Give us that monkey, or I’ll shove what’s left of this place up your arse!” He flung a long, flaming piece of metal from the jukebox across the room. It missed the top of Titus’s head by an inch before lodging in the wall behind him.

Abigail covered her mouth. Titus ran one hand over his blond crew cut. He and Abigail looked above him at the metal twanging in the wall, flames sputtering out.

Titus had reached the end of his patience.

He stood to his full height—over six feet. Abigail gasped again and gave his pants leg a sharp tug.

“What are you doing?” she hissed.

He shook her off roughly. “Ending this foolishness, of course,” he said to her. Then, to the metal-flinging vampire: “Why don’t you come over here and make demands?” He used the tone that had worked so well for him as a Roman general. The one that had once commanded thousands of men to slaughter thousands of others.

It had the desired result. The other vampires glanced at each other nervously. They were frightened of him. Good, thought Titus. You should be. He took several slow steps forward, his shoes crunching on the broken glass underfoot.

But the effect did not last long. “Right, then.” The tattooed vampire gave a sharp nod and stood up. “Sod it all. I’m taking care of this once and for good.” There were echoes of “Bloody right,” and “Sort him out, Connor!” from his companions. Quick as lightning, Connor flew at Abigail.

Oh, no, you don’t, thought Titus. Just as quickly, he flew at Connor, caught him by the arms, and threw him at the wall. Connor made a sizable dent in the concrete and slid down. But he was up again in a moment, snarling, punching Titus in the face and stomach. Titus returned each blow just as hard and fast, even when Connor tore at his muscular arms, shredding his clothing and skin.

Though the latter repaired itself almost instantly, the pain still enraged Titus. Who does this little brat think he is? Connor lunged for his throat, but Titus wasn’t having any of it. A swift chop to the Adam’s apple sent Connor stumbling back. Titus worked hard to keep the fighting between the other vampires and Abigail. It was likely the only thing keeping them from going after her.

“C’mon, Con, don’t let him thump you like that!” the one with the lighter yelled.

“Yeah, finish him already! We need that statue.” The one in the leather vest chucked a broken stool leg at Titus’s head, but missed.

Connor gave an animal grunt and flicked a switchblade open. It caught Titus in the flank, where Connor wrenched it sideways. Titus’s eyes bulged; he bared his fangs, but made no sound. Then he grabbed the hand holding the switchblade and forced it back till he heard a snap.

Connor screamed. Titus tore the switchblade from his side and threw it on the ground. The wound closed, scarless, but it cost Titus blood, which was irritating. Connor gave an animal cry as he clutched his broken hand. It healed by the time he flew at Titus again, eyes lit with fury. He grabbed Titus’s collar, and Titus grabbed his. They spun around in midair until Titus managed to throw Connor off. Connor landed behind the jukebox, but the force of the spin sent Titus back above the bar. He smashed into the bottles lining the shelves, and they cascaded onto him, covering his body in spirits, broken glass, and blood.

Damn. That one is stronger than he looks. Titus sucked air in through his teeth and shook some of the glass off himself. Rivers of liquor were running down the back of his head and neck.

“I’ll have your guts for garters, you old bastard!” Connor screamed from behind the jukebox.

“They’d only improve your wardrobe,” Titus shot back. More cursing and shouting from the other side of the room. Curse these little whelps, Titus thought. Children of the night . . . they can all go straight to hell.

“Truer words were never spoken.” Titus heard a voice beside him. He turned to see Abigail on her hands and knees, gingerly crawling over the body of another vampire and back behind the bar. “About his clothes, I mean. That is one fashion-challenged bastard.”

“What the devil are you doing?” Titus whispered, though he knew he needn’t bother. The other vampires could hear them clearly. And though he and Abigail now had the bar for cover, which was better than the table, it was also closer to their enemies.

“Coming to get you, of course.” She shifted her purse across her hip; Titus saw the statue sticking out of the top. “I can’t just leave you on your own after you tried to save me.”

“I didn’t—I mean, I did, but it wasn’t . . .” Oh, hell, Titus thought. It’s useless. Why explain it to her? I can’t even explain it to myself.

“Ouch! Stupid glass.” Abigail wiped shards from her palm. “Oh, wait—there’s metal in there, too. Damn.” She withdrew a sliver from the pad of her thumb and glanced around. “They certainly have a lot of nice cocktail paraphernalia here. Shakers, tumblers . . .” She crouched on her knees next to him, surveying his torn and bloodied clothing. “You okay?”

“Worry less about me and more about them.” Titus jutted his chin toward the other vampires. Though if you survive them, you may still have to worry about me. His jaw went slack when he saw Abigail floating several feet in the air, peering at the jukebox.

Titus reached up and yanked her back down by her purse strap. She landed on the other side of him.

“Hey!” she cried. “Not so rough.”

“Stay down,” he hissed. “If flying didn’t work for me, it certainly isn’t going to work for you.” Unless you have other powers I know nothing of.

“Oy, she can fly, too?” Titus heard the other vampire begin flicking his lighter again.

“What is she, anyway?” Connor called.

“Yeah, mate, what kinda bird you got over there?”

“Still not sure yet.” Titus eyed her warily.

She winked at him. What gall! “Me neither,” she said.

“All right, you rotters,” one of the other vampires called from across the room. There was something final in the roughness of his voice. “If you don’t hand over that statue on the count of three, I’m tearing the gas right out of this thing.” There was a loud scraping noise as he pulled the pipe from the wall, but it did not break. “Me and mine’ll make for the door. I’ll fire up ol’ Shiny here . . .” Again came the clinking noise of the lighter. “And toss her into the gas. Then you’re finished for sure. Or you can toss us the monkey, and maybe we’ll go easy on you.”

“Yeah, maybe,” one of the other vampires said with a nasty chuckle, seconded by his friends.

“I don’t like the tone of that ‘maybe,’ ” Abigail said to Titus.

“Neither do I,” he muttered. Damn the lot. They still have the upper hand. The fire from a gas explosion could blow even an ancient like himself to kingdom come, to say nothing of Abigail. But he didn’t care if she perished. Of course I don’t, he assured himself. Why would I?

“And really. ‘On the count of three’?” Abigail called. “Who are you, my mommy?”

“One,” said the vampire with the lighter.

“I don’t think we want to find out if his parental skills are up to par,” Titus said to Abigail. But she wasn’t listening to him. Instead, her eyes were scanning the barware around them. Then, they fell on the dead vampire a few feet away, the handle of a .45 visible just above his waistband.

“Quick!” she said to Titus, who was closer to the dead man. “Give me that gun.”

“What? Why? A gun can’t kill a vampire, you fool.”

“Just give it to me!”

“Two,” the other vampire said. There was the moan of metal as he pulled again on the pipe, which had to be close to breaking by now.

“I need a controlled explosion!” She held out her palm and grabbed at the air impatiently. The gun rose from the dead vampire’s waistband, then snagged.

“A what? Why? Oh, hell.” Titus jerked the gun from the vampire’s belt and thrust it into Abigail’s hand. What does it matter? he thought. In a few seconds, we’re both going to die. He could see no way out of this. His heart began to beat faster, but he would not allow himself the conceit of fear. He had faced death many times. This would be the last.

“Fine, if that’s the way you want to play it,” they heard the vampire with the lighter say. There was a double-whooshing sound as his companions flew to the door. “Thr—”

He never finished. Abigail threw the gun high in the air, where it stayed, a transparent bubble forming around it. She craned her neck back and held her hands before her, her brow furrowed in concentration. There was a loud bang, and the bubble filled with fire. Titus covered his head, certain it was about to burst on top of him.

But Abigail held the bubble together. She took a deep breath and bit her lip. Anything metal around the bar started flying into the bubble, as if it were a magnet. A sharp knife whizzed past Titus’s ear, nearly slicing it off. He peeked over the bar. The other three vampires were staring at the bubble in confusion.

“What the . . .” one of them mouthed.

Shakers, tumblers, spoons . . . anything with a silver glint welded itself to the bubble. To Titus’s amazement, it all started to melt. The gun, the utensils . . . soon, they were a solid metal ball hovering in the air. Then, the mass changed shape. The ball flattened until it was a thin circle, spinning in a blur and a high-pitched whine. Sparks flew off it, just missing the puddles of alcohol all around them. Abigail stood up a little, and the circle whizzed across the room, lodging itself in the door frame next to one of the vampires.

“Connor! Connor!” the vampire in the leather vest screamed, eyes bulging and glued to the floor. Titus stood up halfway, in case it was a trap, or a distraction. But his jaw nearly dropped when he saw what the vampire was looking at.

Connor’s body was slumped against the door frame. His head was several feet away.

“Yes!” cried Abigail, pumping her fist in the air.

A blade, Titus realized. She had made a circular saw, which decapitated Connor. Incredible.

“Bloody hell!” the vampire next to the pipe gasped. He turned to Titus in disbelief. “What are you two?” Titus was about to protest that he had nothing to do with their headless friend. But the opportunity was soon lost.

“Who gives a fuck?” the other vampire screamed. “They killed Connor!” His shoulders heaved, his lips curled back in a snarl. “I . . . you . . .” He looked to the bar, growled something unintelligible, and flew at it, bellowing. Titus stood up, squared his shoulders, and bared his fangs. The other vampire’s hands were almost at his throat when, suddenly, his head was gone as well. His body fell to the floor; Titus barely had time to duck before the saw nearly clipped his own skull.

“Careful!” he shouted at Abigail. There was a loud thunk as the blade caught on a post, then tried to wrestle itself free.

“Sorry!” she cried. “I’m having a hard time—” The blade jerked out of the post and whizzed across the room to the opposite wall. “I’ve never done this before.” Abigail stood up and splayed her hands in front of her. She bit her lip as the blade flung itself back and forth at the concrete walls, giving off sparks.

She can’t control magic to save her life. And here I thought our problems ended with the street whelps.

The last of the other vampires—the one with the lighter—was looking back and forth from Abigail to the door. Trying to decide between the monkey and his life, no doubt, thought Titus. The other vampire lifted the remains of the jukebox—at least three hundred pounds—and held it in front of him for cover. The saw struck it and bounced off, sending more sparks scattering. Some of them caught fire in a puddle of spilled beer, and burned in a circle on the floor. The blade winged back and forth wildly. Abigail was still struggling to get a hold on it. The other vampire advanced. There was no time to overthink things. Titus knew he had to act now.

He leaped over the bar and onto the vampire. They crashed to the floor, the saw coming within a hair’s breadth of their heads. The other vampire roared in pain as the jukebox landed on top of him, and Titus on top of the jukebox. But with the huge, square frame of metal between them, the other vampire was trapped on the floor. It gave Titus just enough time to reach down and wrench his head off.

He barely had time to enjoy the shock in the vampire’s sightless eyes before throwing his head to the side. Barely heard the cigarette lighter fall from his slack, hairy grasp to the floor. The deadly saw was still zinging this way and that, like an evil flying saucer. Normally, a vampire would be able to move out of its way in plenty of time. But the weapon was fast—and unpredictable. Suddenly, it stopped, changed direction midair, and headed back toward Abigail.

“Whoa!” She managed to duck just in time. The saw hit the wall behind the bar where the shelves had been, then began flinging itself around the room again.

“Stop that thing!” Titus yelled, dropping under the counter amid the stools.

“I can’t!” Abigail’s voice filled with panic. Her trembling hands were splayed before her. Her head turned right, then left, as she tried to follow the blade. The creases in her face grew deeper; her skin turned pink with effort. Beads of perspiration ran down the sides of her head. Titus realized the saw’s trajectory.

The gas line. The discus was headed straight for the weakened pipe. When the gas reached the small fire burning on the floor, they were both finished. Without knowing why, Titus leaped over the bar and clasped Abigail in his arms. With speed only an ancient could manage, he burst through the front door. One second later, the saw sliced through the gas line. A second after that, the gas and fire met, and the pub exploded behind them.

***

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