From USA Today bestselling author Stacey Kennedy comes the next spellbinding and suspenseful romance in the Undead Ever After series.
Willa von Stein thought she was magicless, but after a powerful spell broke a decades-long curse, her once very safe, very quiet life was shattered. Now she’s not only a witch, but also a vampire princess. Yes, seriously. But adjusting to her new set of fangs and impressive magic isn’t exactly easy when her vampire uncle is out to destroy her and her newfound family. In order to survive, she’ll need to master her new powers – and fast.
But Willa isn’t alone. Killian Constantine, vampire Warden of Charleston, may rule over the city, but Willa rules his heart. He’ll do anything to protect her. But between vampire riots, blood magic sorcery, and supernatural unrest, protecting both Willa and his city is becoming harder and harder to do.
In every shadow, Willa and Killian find enemies new and old. Despite every precaution, Willa becomes a pawn in a ruthless war. In order to protect everyone she loves, she’ll need to use mysterious, ancient magic. But if she fails, there will be deadly consequences….
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“This ghost is a pain in my ass,” my best friend, Gwen, declared the moment I entered her apartment. Like most days, her red-painted lips were pulled back, the light glistening off her fangs as she lifted a bundle of burning sage in the air waving it around the room.
I kicked off my shoes and flopped into the chair next to the windowsill full of plants. I’d heard from the owners who lived in the apartment above my bookshop before me that the place was haunted. But the ghost had never bothered me in all the years I’d lived in the apartment. Nor had I ever felt it’s watchful eyes on me. The only thing I felt was slight jealously over how Gwen made even pajamas look glamorous.
While I shared the fangs with Gwen now, that’s all we shared on a physical level. Where she was tall and lean, I was only five foot six with more curves. Her shiny mid-length blonde hair always had a unique stylish cut and her brown eyes were deep and wise, where my hair was long, and brown, and my eyes blue.
Gwen lived and breathed grace. I faked it.
“What’s the ghost doing?” I asked.
“It’s driving me mad, that’s what,” Gwen snarled at the invisible pest, doing circles with the smudge stick. “It leaves cabinets open, drops my things on the floor, knocks everything over, including my plants.” She glanced over her shoulder, looking the deadly vampire she was with glowing eyes. “It’s like I have a cat or a terrible boyfriend living with me, which right now, I don’t have either.”
“I’m sorry,” I said, and meant it.
Our friendship blossomed after I hired her on at my bookstore, Cauldron Boil Books, which catered to vampires, back when I first moved to Charleston after being banished from my coven for being magicless. Of course, all that changed now, and I felt the Goddess’s magic flowing endlessly through my blood, as I did the darker magic of the vampires. When I moved in with Killian, my gemina flamma—which made us bound together by the rich, dark magic running though our veins, our souls a mirror of each other—Gwen had moved into the apartment to save herself the high rent in Charleston.
I frowned, glancing around the space hoping the ghost saw that. “The ghost seriously never bothered me. I didn’t even believe the old owners when they said the place was haunted.”
Gwen snorted, lifting the smudge stick higher toward the ceiling. “Well, apparently, this ghost likes you, and doesn’t like me.” She cursed and grumbled the entire time she smudged all four corners of the room. She kept on until she placed the smudge stick on a small plate and let it continue to burn, and said to the ghost, “You don’t have to leave, but you must behave yourself. Stop acting like a messy boyfriend I do not want.”
I fought back my laughter.
Gwen caught me immediately. She narrowed her eyes, pointing one red-painted finger. “This isn’t funny. My plants, Willa,” she snapped. “It’s knocking over my pretty plants.”
I glanced at her windowsill and stroked one of the leaves of the pothos. “Okay, that is very mean.” With my heritage not only as a vampire but also a witch, I had a special connections to nature, as most witches did, and experienced a soothing peace whenever I was near trees or plants.
Releasing the smooth leaf, I glared into nothingness. “You were nice to me. Be nice to Gwen too.” Then I added for safe measure, “Please.”
Gwen held her breath. I held mine.
When nothing dramatic happened, I asked, “Does that mean the ghost is happy?”
Gwen rolled her eyes. “That’s doubtful,” she said with a slight shrug, “but come on. I’ve got to turn you into a princess.”
I internally groaned, jumping up and grabbing my gown bag that I’d placed over the back of the kitchen chair.
I followed Gwen into her bedroom that had once been my bedroom. When I moved into the Manor—which was where Killian, the Warden of Charleston lived, and was the headquarters for Charleston’s Vampire Sovereignty—I didn’t need furniture and only took my clothes and personal belongings. Though, as I noticed Gwen’s makeup case on the queen-size bed, I discovered that Gwen bought a new flower-patterned duvet cover and changed the space a little to fit her much trendier style.
She promptly pointed to the bed. “Sit. Let’s turn you into a starlet.”
My entire life I was a witch—a magicless witch—but a witch, nonetheless. Until Ezra Von Stein went on a full-fledged power trip against his brother Ari, the Vampire King, wanting to overthrow him. In that quest, I got caught up in the middle, when it came out that I wasn’t only a witch, but I was also part vampire, and the daughter of the Vampire King. All of which was hidden away with a binding spell. When that spell was broken, my life forever changed: with the return of my magic, both witch and vampire, and the return of my witch mother, Zara—the love of Ari’s life—who had been trapped in the same spell that bound my magic.
Which all led up to tonight with my being introduced to the vampire world as the daughter of Ari, and I needed to play that part.
With a sigh, dreading the night ahead and the spotlight that I didn’t want shining on me, I sat down, and Gwen got right to work.
Hair pinned back for the moment, she put her makeup to good use, until she finished by gluing fake lashes into place. When she finally took a step back, she gave me a long, long look over. “Oh, I have nailed this.” She smiled, taking my hand, pulling me up and leading me to the antique vanity.
I blinked at my reflection as I sat against the velvet cushion. “Gwen… I…”
“Are stunningly beautiful, I know,” she breathed, standing behind me, her hands on my shoulders. “You can thank me later.”
“I’ll thank you now,” I countered. I’d never considered myself elegant by any stretch of the imagination. I loved books, coffee, and comfort. Somehow my smokey makeup made me look red-carpet ready, making my eyes pop, without looking too over the top.
Gwen just smiled and then got to work on my hair. I always thought that if she hadn’t been turned into a vampire against her will, she’d likely have been a makeup artist to the stars. The talent just oozed out of my best friend, and I could see the joy in her eyes whenever she got to fuss over anyone.
“Are you nervous about tonight?” she asked after she released a curl from the curling iron.
“Very,” I replied, not bothering to lie. I’d already experienced a similar event when Killian introduced me to the Charleston vampires, as well as his friends and his guard, as his gemina flamma—which basically meant the bonded one of their leader—and that had gone well enough. His guard had become protective—sometimes to a fault—over me, but I had made new friends within Killian’s ranks. But tonight’s event with Ari, the Vampire King, was on a much larger scale. I was meeting every Warden from every state they governed, and I was doing so as part witch.
While Zara and Ari had once tried to close the gap between vampires and witches and unite our worlds, they had failed. “I have no clue how everyone is going to react.” Past experience told me mixing the two worlds didn’t go well.
Witches and vampires weren’t exactly besties.
For as long as I could remember, I thought my mother had passed away and I’d been raised by my Aunt Flora. But, in fact, the truth had been that Flora had stolen me away and Ari had thought I died the night my mother had. Turned out, my mother hadn’t been killed at all, but she’d been entrapped by the spell.
No one had expected Flora to try to kill me to use the magic to empower herself. As much as no one had expected Ari’s brother, Ezra, to want to kill me for the same reason.
In the end, Flora had died by Ezra’s hand for the power now humming in my blood. And Ezra had gotten away, remaining out of our reach, a reminder that there were many vampires who didn’t want the races to intermingle.
“I wouldn’t worry too much about tonight and how everyone will treat you,” said Gwen, drawing my thoughts back to her. She added another pin to my hair. “You have Ari and Zara there to protect you.” Zara was a mighty witch in her own right. And Ari more powerful with the same elvish magic that I now had too. Elves were ancient shape-shifters who were brutally hunted during the medieval period. “You also have Killian. Any of them will rip out anyone’s throats if they so much as look as you wrong.”
I snorted a laugh. “Probably Killian more so than my parents.”
Gwen gave a firm nod. “Probably.”
That was another adjustment that still was a work-in-progress. Not that long ago, I thought the idea of the soul-deep connection was weird. Until I had experienced it with Killian, and now I knew for certain my soul couldn’t face life without him.
Regardless of the intense pull to share our bond with the world, we hadn’t rushed to declare our relationship publicly, because a month ago, I hadn’t even known about my vampire heritage, or Ari and Zara. A month ago, I viewed myself as a broken witch. So, while my soul loved Killian and needed him, my heart and head were still falling in love with the vampire that fate had destined me with.
And since witches fell in love the same way humans did, naturally, Killian was considerate of this side of me, allowing me the time before we declared our love in a ceremony before the vampire world.
“To be honest, I just hope there aren’t any problems tonight,” I admitted my greatest fear.
“Why would there be problems?” Gwen asked with a smile. “You are you. Everyone is going to fall madly in love with you.”
I snorted. “Oh, I don’t know, maybe because I’m also part witch, and vampires hate witches.” I let all my worries sink heavy into my gut. “Ezra is still out there, still creating a great divide between the vampires.” Where Ari wanted peace with the humans who fed vampires willingly and were greatly compensated for it, Ezra wanted power and control, viewing humans as lesser. And Ezra didn’t want to bring the species together.
Funny, at one time in my life I thought being a magicless witch was bad. Now, being the only offspring of a witch and vampire came with a big sticker on my forehead that read: OUTSIDER.
Gwen slapped my shoulder, when suddenly a snappy voice from the doorway said, “Stop that right now!”
I spun on the stool, discovering the other best friend in our trio, Finnick, entering the room like the God he thought he was. He wasn’t delusional, both men and women alike treated him as such. Finnick belonged on magazine covers. His sandy-blond hair was messy, his blue eyes sharp, and his body packed full of hard muscle. “You are gorgeous,” he said with a grin, revealing his sparkling white fangs, “and everyone tonight will fall at your feet.”
I rolled my eyes. “And you know how much I’d hate that.”
“Oh, hush,” Finnick said. “There is something seriously wrong with you. I would love every second of anyone falling at my feet.”
I laughed, as Gwen tapped my shoulder to spin back around on the chair.
She finished pinning a few more pins before she said, “And done.”
I turned my head from side to side, taking in the soft, romantic updo. “I love it, Gwen. Truly. You’re a miracle worker.”
“You can tell me that after we get you into the gown,” she said.
With Finnick and Gwen’s help, I undressed to my black lace bra and panties and slid into a black ballgown with sweetheart neckline paired with illusion puff sleeves. The corset bodice was covered with crimson floral embroidery. The tulle skirt of the A-line silhouette sported a thigh-high slit on the side leg, with a sweeping train, and it was nothing I could ever afford on my own.
Being Ari’s daughter had also come with a credit card. This was the first time I’d ever used it and would likely be the last. But even I knew the impression I needed to make tonight. I couldn’t walk into Ari’s Blood Moon ball so he could introduce me to the vampire elite as his daughter without looking like a Vampire Princess.
Once Gwen finished tying the corseted back, until breathing was a slight challenge, I said, “I wish you guys were coming with me.” Vampire politics were nearly as brutal as human politics, but status in the world was very much the same. While Ari had welcomed my best friends into his fold, not everyone would, and in vampire society, Gwen and Finnick were seen as vampires without standing.
That would change. I’d see to it, but that wasn’t going to happen tonight.
“We wish we were too,” Finnick said with a laugh.
They both took a step back, gazed over me from head to toe, and then nodded firmly.
“Stunning,” Finnick said.
Gwen nodded. “Deadly gorgeous.”
I smiled. “So now I can tell you you’re a miracle worker?”
Her eyes crinkled at the corners. “It’s easy when you’ve got an amazing canvas to work with.”
She handed me my black heels. After I slipped into them, she took my hand and then led me out in the hallway, where the tall mirror was hung on the wall.
The moment I caught my reflection, I gasped, “I don’t even look like myself.”
“Sure, you do,” Finnick said from over my shoulder. “You just look fancier.”
I looked expensive. Which was exactly how I should look, I supposed. “All right,” I said, turning back to them. “I better get going.”
Gwen nodded. “We want a full report on the night. Who’s there. Who is single. Who is hot. What Wardens do I need to meet to fall in love with, etcetera.”
Finnick agreed with a nod. “Yes, all that, and then everything else.”
I shook my head, laughing. “Knowing you two, you’d fall in love with same Warden and then we’d have a fight on our hands.”
Gwen and Finnick had very similar tastes in men. Only Gwen liked her men straight.
“That’s not a problem.” Gwen grinned. “We can always share.”
Finnick sniffed. “Speak for yourself. I share no one. Ever.” He took me by the arm and lead me down the staircase and into the bookshop.
I waved at Ivy, a young vampire I’d hired on to cover my shifts at the bookshop, so Gwen didn’t have to handle the heavier workload. I missed my bookshop with a terrible ache, but with all the danger around me at the moment, I didn’t want the shop to be targeted, so I stayed away, no matter how much it broke my heart.
The moment we stepped outside, we found an SUV waiting with four of the Manor’s guards, and suddenly, a swirl of silver blew the hair around my face.
Until that happy swirl stopped on the sidewalk. Only recently had I learned the full truth about my pet dragon, Ambrose. He’d been a gift from Ari as a child to protect me, but Ambrose’s magic had been trapped with mine.
When I came into my magic, Ambrose came into his, which gave him shape-shifting abilities. When threatened, he’d grow to his full dragon size and rain hellfire down on anyone threatening me. But at all other times, he was the size of a border collie and loved sleeping at the end of my bed. Shapeshifting wasn’t a natural trait for a dragon, but we all concluded that Ambrose liked being little to snuggle with me.
I liked it too.
“Ready, buddy?” I asked him.
He sat back on his butt, his tongue wagging out.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” I told him, patting his head. To Gwen, I added, “Thank you so much for tonight. I couldn’t have faced all this without you.”
“You got this.” Gwen took me into her arms, giving a big, hard hug. “Don’t let anyone rattle you.”
I stepped away and into Finnick’s arms next. He squeezed me tighter than the corset. “Kick ass, girl.”
“I’ll try my best,” I said, squeezing him back just as hard. Gwen and Finnick took me into their friendship circle without a blink of an eye, regardless that, at the time, I was a magicless witch who didn’t belong in a city of vampires.
“Willa, it’s time to go.”
I glanced over my shoulder finding Severin, the Captain of Guard, at the Manor, and Killian’s right-hand man. Severin was ruggedly handsome with green eyes and stylish blond hair. He wore the same uniform as all the Manor guards, of cargo pants and a black T-shirt, a dagger in a belt on his waist.
“Okay,” I said, tuning to Gwen and Finnick, and we said our quick goodbyes.
I noted as I slid into the back seat of the SUV, Severin and Gwen were staring at each other for a moment longer than necessary… and I wondered… what if?
Before I could decide if I was imagining things heating up between them, Ambrose curled up next to me on the seat, and I buckled him in for safekeeping as Severin shut the door and then got into the driver’s seat.
I waved at Gwen and Finnick, and then we drove in silence, and we drove fast, getting to the Citadel, home of the Vampire King in Baton Rouge in quick time, considering a vampire was at the wheel.
Located on the west bank of the Mississippi River, the plantation stretched over vast, untouched Louisiana countryside. Sitting atop a high hill, the limestone mansion, in the Greek Revival architecture the same as the Manor, towered over the oak trees surrounding the home. Guards stood at every entrance, every gate, and walked the wrought-iron fence line.
Our SUV stopped at the front, and Severin opened my door a second later, my stomach churning. Being the prestigious Captain of the Guard for Killian meant Severin was welcome into the ball, and I was glad of it. Severin was Killian’s closest friend. He trusted him, and so did I.
As if Severin felt my hesitation, he wrapped a firm grip around my arm. “Remember who you are. Be yourself. You’ll dazzle them.”
The warmth sliding through my heart killed the nerves in my belly. I smiled at him, hoping he saw the appreciation on my face. “Thanks, Severin.” I drew in a big, deep breath and faced the mansion. Maybe it was that simple. Maybe I didn’t have to change at all. I could always be Willa, the witch who had found a home among the vampires. Maybe I could stay… me.
With Ambrose flying at my side, we entered the heavily guarded mansion, the guards bowing their heads while I passed. I didn’t flinch or let the color rise to my face, knowing I needed to be strong and solid tonight.
I could do this.
The foyer was marble and iron and artwork that I suspected most galleries would fight to own.
“You are a vision, Willa von Stein.”
I smiled as the low voice slid through my mind with the mind-linking ability only given to sires and to bonded vampires, and the tingling power touched my back. Rich magic that called to me on every level of my soul.
I turned to face the Warden of Charleston, and the vampire weaving his way deeply into my heart, as Ambrose danced between Killian’s legs in happiness. Sometimes I thought my dragon might love Killian more than he did me, but as I took in Killian filling out his tuxedo with his muscular physique, I got why.
Killian was the type of vampire that made women stare and men jealous. He had shiny and styled jet-black hair, and while he didn’t look older than thirty-five, his shadowed gray eyes were wise and glowed with old power. “I’m not the only gorgeous one here,” I replied.
His smile stirred butterflies in my chest that only awakened once he came into my life. “Are you ready?” he asked, closing the distance, his magic electrifying the air with every step.
“No.” I smiled.
He stopped when his shoes nearly pressed against the front of mine. His eyes burned as he tucked a finger under my chin, lifting my stare to hold his. “You are more than anyone else in that room. You are special. You are Ari’s only offspring.”
“Keep talking.” I laughed.
His grin widened. “You are stunning. Hilarious. And all mine.” Then his lips sealed across mine and his heated kiss stole away my worries. When I pressed against him, wanting so much more, he grinned against my lips. “Later.”
I took a step back and breathed past the arousal I could sense, scent and taste hanging on the air. “Later,” I agreed.
Killian glanced down at Ambrose at my feet and told him aloud, “Any trouble, protect her.”
Ambrose’s tongue slid out the side of his mouth as he bounced on all fours, little sparks of fire coming out of his mouth.
To most, he’d seem harmless. Though when he felt the need to defend, his full-size and wicked sharp teeth and blistering hot fire unsettled even me sometimes.
Killian offered his arm. “Be fearless, Willa.”
I drew in another deep breath for bravery, forcing my emotions still. Vampires could smell emotions, a trait once used to attack victims. It hadn’t been the first time I needed to force confidence among vampires. Probably wouldn’t be the last.
I gave a firm nod. “Let’s go.”
“Any trouble and I will deal with it,” a steady voice said behind me.
I turned and found the witch I’d yearned to see for my entire life. A witch that everyone thought was dead. Until I broke the spell that change all our lives forever. “Mother.”
Zara, a gorgeous, dark-haired witch, with soft and trusting green eyes, and a curvy figure that looked very much like my own. She wore a stunning deep-red lace gown. I saw uncertainly in her eyes too, and it made me feel like I wasn’t alone in all this. I wasn’t the only witch that wasn’t wanted here. She took my hand and squeezed. “We will walk through those doors and stand together.”
I drew strength from her and nodded firmly. “Together.”
Though, as I stepped into the grand ballroom full of crystal chandeliers, gold place settings and a live band playing classical music, and as all eyes came to me—some friendly, others not—I knew right then, I wasn’t Willa, a bookshop owner anymore.
In their eyes, I wasn’t only princess, witch, and vampire, I was an abomination.