Author: Melissa Lummis
Tour Host: Lady Amber's Tours
Loti Dupree’s meager healing abilities have been more a curse than a blessing. What’s the point if she can’t even save her husband from cancer? Harboring a painful secret, Loti flees the life they had in a small Appalachian town for the ashram, the spiritual retreat where she trained to be a yogini. But she finds herself running from more than grief when an ominous nightmare sets her on a dangerous path of self-discovery that challenges everything she believes, and threatens her life.
While dodging psychic attacks from an unknown assailant, Loti races to understand who and what she is before her enemy can catch up with her. To make matters worse, events throw her into the arms of a handsome but frustrating vampire. Love and light are waiting for her—if she can only figure out how to stay alive.
Wolf stared at the full moon as if it might reveal the answers he sought. He dug a pack of Camel’s from his shirt pocket and lit a cigarette with a wooden match. Shaking out the flame, he dropped the burnt stick and returned his apprehensive gaze to the sky. 500 years had not prepared him for what he felt at that moment—the overwhelming urgency and need to go back in the house right now, to her. Taking a drag, he glanced back at the little house; the bedroom lights were still on and his sharp hearing picked up the women’s soft voices. Rachel reassured Loti that she was fine and that the nest at Marksville would help her figure this out. Wolf assured her they were different, she said. How? Loti asked. Wolf closed his eyes and inhaled—he could still smell her. Her unique female scent laced with fear and arousal, her blood salty and sweet, and the something else he couldn’t identify. He had smelled something like this before, but only faintly from another woman; it hadn’t been a one-hundredth of what he smelled now. This was so much stronger, yet delicate. It called to him, coaxing him to return, to stay, to stop, to not walk away this time.
He opened his eyes, looking down at his hands. His fingers thrummed with the sensation of soft skin over firm muscles. And what was that damn jolt every time he touched her? And the other thing? Squashing the barely smoked Camel under his boot, he pinched off the filter and sprinkled the uncharred tobacco in his palm. Holding some between thumb and forefinger, he faced the east, kissing his fingertips.
“Spirits of the east,” he said, extending his pinched fingers, then sprinkling the tobacco. He turned to the right. “Spirits of the south.” He repeated the gesture, addressing each cardinal point in the same way, then lifted another bit to the sky. “Father Sky.” He knelt, touching the ground. “Mother Earth.” His eyes closed, and he touched his chest. “Hear my plea. This creature needs your guidance.” No thoughts in his head, he waited, his spine still crawling. Longing surged through his heart and mind, palpable, pulsing, and heavy.
Flinching, he opened predator eyes. He leapt into the air, racing through the woods like a wraith, his feet barely touching the ground. A blur in the dark, his humanity faded away. The vampire instinct led him to the acrid scent of burning wood and meat, and the sweet smell of human blood. He covered two miles in under 30 seconds. He zipped to a stop ten yards from the firelight, where he held unnaturally still, watching the small group and listening to their conversation.
“I’ll bet you could rig up the batteries two at a time,” one man said.
“Oh, yeah. It’s not hard to do,” the second man responded, taking a swig off a bottle and passing it.
Wolf sniffed. Honey whiskey.
“Especially now,” the woman who took the bottle said. She drank and handed it over. “Well, we can always figure something out.”
Tea tree oil, sour milk? Yogurt, Wolf corrected himself. And mother’s milk. His pupils dilated.
“How much does one cost?”
Lavender and eucalyptus and honey.
“About $550 for the actual generator, but there’s the tower and the battery bank, and the batteries themselves.”
The conversation continued, but Wolf wasn’t listening anymore, his focus on the lactating woman. There were four people sitting around a low fire, and the small breathing sounds of young children came from two big tents twenty yards away. Quite young. Urine. Breast milk. He turned his attention back to the adults, specifically the dark-haired woman, the mother, who was standing up and stretching.
“I need to pee,” she announced. “Where are the headlamps, Max?”
Max pressed something into her hand as she bent to kiss him lightly on the mouth. Adjusting the headlamp he’d given her, she headed for the trees, and Wolf stepped silently behind an oak as she picked her way along a fresh-cut path. She ducked into a copse of Russian olive trees and out of sight. Wolf balled his hands into fists and ground his back teeth together as the smell of her blood, laced with mother’s hormones and milk, taunted him. His fangs clicked down. He waited for the woman to put her clothing back in order, and when she looked up, his eyes glowed with a dark light. She opened her mouth, but no sound came out.
“Shhh,” Wolf soothed, moving toward her.
Paralyzed by fear and his gaze, she didn’t try to run or scream, but her hands began a fine trembling.
“Relax.” His voice filled her chest as he ran his hand along her shoulder to her neck, lifting the heavy curtain of wavy, dark hair. The woman stopped shaking, but she never took her eyes off his as he dragged her to him and spun her around. He tilted her head to one side, exposing her white neck and stretching it into a long, tight line. Resting his mouth over her jumping pulse, he bit. She jerked beneath him, her eyes fluttering and drifting closed. He gripped her tighter, drawing sweet blood in quiet gulps. It was sweeter than usual, and he flashed on a mental image of his own mother: young, strong, dark, and beautiful, but all mothers were beautiful to their sons. Was she as beautiful as he remembered? Or had time and memory worked their magic, softening the rough edges and creating an aura of nostalgia? Had 500 years edited his memory? His mother held a small, dark berry out to him, the sun blazing behind her in a clear, blue sky.
“Taste it, Wolf. It’s perfectly ripe.”
Her voice echoed down the years, waking up his humanity. He yanked his fangs from her neck. What was he doing? He blinked. She was tranquil in his arms, breathing deeply, relaxed in the vampire’s spell. As sharp guilt cut through Wolf, he fortified himself against the warring wants. With a practiced detachment, he licked the bite wounds until the blood coagulated and the skin and tissue knitted back together. By morning it would itch like a bug bite and with the two faint marks, she’d think they were bug bites.
“You went into the woods to relieve yourself and noticed how unusual the moon is tonight,” he whispered into her ear.
She nodded. “The halo is beautiful. What is it?” Her voice thick with magic.
“It’s the wolf moon.”
He nudged her away until she walked on her own, her vacant face tilted up. The spell dissipated and awareness firmed her eyes as she looked to her left then right. She hesitated, looking up at the moon once more and glanced over her shoulder, but Wolf was gone. She had a vague sense of well-being mingled with fear and arousal. What a strange sensation, she thought. He’d taken the memory from her. It was his alone.
He pressed warm lips to her trembling ones. Her head swam with panic as he slid his arms around her, deepening the kiss. His hands wandered over her back, skating under her shirt hem and over her warm, bare skin. When his fingers grazed her flesh, it dawned on her that she was kissing him back. Her arms were wrapped around his waist, and their stomachs, and lower things, melded together. Horrified, she shoved Jeremy’s hips away, breaking the kiss and hissed through gritted teeth, “Stop.”
Jeremy’s eyes were glazed and half hidden by his shaggy hair. His breath was shallow as one arm fell away from her and the other gripped the storage rack behind her. She turned away from his broad chest into his hard, muscular arm.
“Don’t be mad, okay?” he whispered.
Lust and revulsion tangled in her belly as she mumbled, “Jeremy...please.” She caught her breath. “David. . .”
His arm dropped out of the way, and his fevered eyes cooled into a careful concern. “Hey, I get it. No explanation necessary.” He wrapped a hand around hers, giving it a mollifying squeeze. When she didn’t pull back right away, he leaned his forehead against hers. For a second they both closed their eyes, Loti yielding to his comforting gesture. When he crept closer, she splayed her free hand against his chest and shoved.
“That’s enough, Don Juan.”
He stumbled back and she swallowed down the confusing mix of emotions. Holding him at bay, she extracted her other hand from his as she scuttled out the door. His chin dropped, eyes still closed, as he drooped against the wall. Out in the open space of the studio, she took a deep breath and turned to face him. He stood in the doorway, hands in his pockets, his hair hiding his eyes as he studied his flip flops. His long surfer shorts showed off muscular calves. How old is he, anyway? 25? She was only 30, but she felt so much older.
“I know I’m a fool, Jeremy.” Her voice shook despite her careful control.
He looked up through the curtain of bangs. His light-hearted smile absolved her. “I’ve had a thing for you for a while.” He shrugged it off and reached down for his yoga mat.
She forced herself to look in his eyes as he straightened. “I’m not ready.”
He cleared his throat. “So when will you be?” And he flung the mat over his shoulder.
Her stomach did a flip and she licked the corner of her mouth. “I don’t know. It’s still fresh.” Her gaze wavered.
Jeremy flicked the hair out of his eyes. “I’m not going to push it. Don’t worry.” He smiled wider, showing teeth. “But you’ve got to know how damn hot you are. Maybe when you get back from this trip.”
Loti relaxed the hands she’d balled up. A warm blush bloomed across her cheeks, and she rolled her eyes. “Yeah, maybe.”
As the moon rose over the trees, Rachel wondered how far away Wolf was. She sat on the porch swing her father helped her install last summer, her apprehension growing. So much water under the bridge, she mused. Although the effects of the blood bond had gone away, she never stopped caring about her uncle or worrying about him for that matter. It was an hour before Wolf’s Fat Boy thundered through the tranquil night. She smirked; what a drama-king. He could run, or fly, faster than that stupid bike. Still not wearing a helmet, he parked by her blue truck. She steeled herself, ready to confront him. But as he turned toward her, his eyes glowing with the moonlight, her breath caught at just how beautiful he was. Reaching around to his back, he slid the hairband off and shook his jet black hair loose from the braid.
“Much better,” he grumbled.
Rachel never forgot how deep his voice was or the way it vibrated in her chest. He’s vampire; never forget that.
“Rachel.” He smiled and held out his hands.
She ran down the three steps and into his arms. He lifted her off the ground and spun her around like she was eighteen again. Giggling, she braced her hands on his shoulders, and like the years apart had never happened, she was light inside. He lowered her down and kissed the back of her hand. Tears glistened on her cheeks.
“Sweet, Rachel, don’t cry,” Wolf soothed, tucking his knuckles under her chin and tilting her face up so he could wipe the tears away with his thumbs.
“I’m just. . .happy. . .sad. . . oh, hell.” She jerked away. “I missed you, okay?”
“I missed you too, sweet Rachel.”
“Oh stop with the ‘sweet Rachel’.” She rubbed her cheek. “It’s corny.”
Wolf burst out laughing. “Good to see you haven’t lost your spark.” He grabbed the fleshy part of her arms and crushed her to his chest. “It’s good to see you.”
And as many times as she’d rehearsed their first meeting over the years—reprimanding him for taking advantage of her when she was so young, for staying away so long, extracting a promise from him that he would never do anything like it again—she couldn’t follow the script. It all was unexpectedly moot because now that he returned she was acutely aware there was still a bond between them. Not of blood, but forged by the little and big life moments they shared. Like when her high school boyfriend broke up with her before the prom, and Wolf had taken her to Paris to show her there was a much bigger world. He was her protector, her rock when the rest of the world fell apart. At least he had been until he left.
“Why did you stay away so long?” she murmured into his chest.
Wolf held her a moment before unwrapping his arms, the leather jacket creaking. “I’m sorry about that.” He rubbed the side of his nose, his eyes contrite. “I lost track of time.”
Rachel punched him in the sternum.
“Ow.” He rubbed the spot, flinching as he stepped back, trying to look wounded. “You’ve gotten stronger.” It was almost endearing.
“Have you been to see Nan? She’s missed you too. You didn’t have to stay away from her.” Rachel stuck out her bottom lip, very aware she was acting childish but not able to stop.
“Yes, I did have to stay away from her. She was pretty pissed.” His eyes twinkled, and he threw her over his shoulder and strode toward the house with Rachel kicking and protesting the entire time.
Loti bolted upright in bed, screaming into the blackness. Throwing off the covers, she staggered into the living room where she collapsed in front of the fireplace, wheezing. The full moon poured an eerie blue light over everything. She crawled on her hands and knees to the fireplace and leaned against the river rocks. Despite their radiating warmth, she shook as fear twisted her insides. Her home vibrated with a sinister energy, and she hugged bare arms around trembling knees. With a foul taste in her mouth, she jerked at the creak of a settling board. Her whole body tensed as she got the unshakeable feeling that someone was watching her.
Hmmmm, hmmmm, hmmmmmmm
She froze at the sound of someone humming an off-handed tune, the hair on her arms and the back of her neck standing on end.
Mmmmm mmmmm hmmmm hmmm
Dizzy and sick to her stomach, she thought, Call Rachel. Her frozen muscles thawed, and she dove for the phone on the writing desk tucked in the corner of the dining room. Fumbling with the receiver, her fingers shook as she dialed. While the other end rang, she counted her breaths— inhale one, two, three, four—
Hmmmm hmmmmm hmmmm
Holding her breath, she cowered in the corner between the desk and French glass doors, trying to make herself small and invisible. There was a click on the other end.
“Hi, this is Rachel. You’ve missed me, but I’d hate to miss your call. Please leave me a message and a number, and I’ll get back to you. I promise.” Beep.
“Rachel, are you there? Pick up.”
“I have no idea what time it is, but I’m coming over. Something’s going on. I’ll explain when I get there.”
She hung up and surveyed the open space of the great room. It was like a fishbowl. Four years ago, she and David fell in love with the house because it was the closest thing to living in the outdoors without setting their living room up in the yard. Now it felt like a stupid idea. There was nowhere to hide. With the lights out, she could see the naked dogwood tree through the front door.
The dense air caught in her throat and her blood roared in her ears as her eyes fixed on a dark blob on a branch. With quivering legs, she slid her back up the wall and took a tentative step forward, squinting. The shape was like a cardboard cutout or something not living. Tense with the effort to be quiet, she crept across the room, but the thing turned around and looked straight at her. A raven? She took off like a shot, diving into the bedroom and slamming the door behind her.
Shaking uncontrollably, she grabbed a pair of gray sweat pants and an old pink pullover from the closet floor, tucking them under her arm. She tugged a boot on, hopping across the floor on one foot. Cracking the door open less than an inch, she peered through the little space. The raven was still perched in the dogwood. She bolted for the closet by the front door. Yanking her shearling jacket off the hanger, she felt for her purse and keys on the top shelf. She paused.
Hmmmm hmmmm hmmmm
Clothes and purse dangling from her arms, she burst out the front door, sprinting across the circular driveway to her Jeep. Leaping in, her hands shook so bad it took several attempts to fit the key into the ignition. The car roared to life, and she threw it into reverse. Flipping on the headlights, she wrenched the gearshift into drive and stole a glance at the dogwood—yep, still there—then spun the wheel, spraying gravel. The raven flapped fitfully and took off as she careened down the driveway, leaving long divots in her wake.
The basement room reeked of mildew and old books. A great, crumbling tome rested on a heavy wooden table that harkened back to the days of the Salem witch trials. Candles burned in a ring around a chalked-pentagram on the cement floor, while a pony-tailed blonde set the last one down carefully, completing the circle of protection.
“That’s not right, Katie,” a flat-topped young man teased as he pushed her playfully out of the way. She giggled and fell to her side, slapping at the hand nudging the candle a hair to the right.
“Smart-ass.” She laughed, tapping his knee with her saddle-shoe. He turned and their eyes held for a moment.
“Come on, Joe, time’s a-flying, and we’ve got a metaphysics final tomorrow. I’d like to pass.” A fellow in gray trousers tapped his wrist watch.
“Don’t flip your wig, Patrick, we’re ready.” Joe grinned over his shoulder. Katie shifted her blue, blameless eyes to Patrick’s face, the warm glow as steady and true on him as it had been for Joe. The corners of Patrick’s mouth curled up.
“Then let’s begin,” he said in a mocking, ominous voice. Patrick offered both hands to Katie, who tilted her head and winked. She grabbed them, and he took his time pulling her to her feet. When Joe turned toward the pair, Patrick dropped her hands, and she dusted off her green pedal-pushers.
“I’ll never get these clean again. Mom will kill me,” she fussed.
The three college co-eds marched around the circle, mumbling a protection incantation under their breath. After three turns around, they stepped into the circle and knelt, facing each other. Joining hands, they struggled to maintain serious faces as repressed smiles twitched their lips. They repeated the incantation over and over:
“Asato ma sadgamaya.
Tamaso ma jyotirgamaya.
Mrtyorma amrtam gamaya”
Katie’s soft, schoolgirl voice balanced out the men’s coming-of-age gruffness. The candle flames flickered as the energy they conjured coalesced around them, blowing in a gust around the circle. The wind grew more robust until Katie’s ponytail danced behind her like blonde streamers on the end of a girl’s bicycle handle. They raised their voices over the roaring pitch, changing the incantation.
“Om Klim Kalikayei Namaha”
They chanted in perfect unison over the blustering energy. Their eyes flared in fascination as a pinprick of light materialized in the center of their circle, expanding into a sphere. The edge sizzled and danced in unison to the flickering candle flames. The center was a blur of color with indistinct shapes forming and dissolving.
Joe shouted, “Now.” And they yelled over the commotion:
“Om bhurbhuva svah
Bhargo devasya dhimahi
Dhiyo yo nah procodayat”
The sphere of light blasted open into a swirling orb of green and blue, ringing like a singing bowl. Katie laughed out loud in wonder and shock, and as if drawn by her girlish voice, the orb rushed to her. Her hands were torn from Joe and Patrick’s frantic grasps as she floated above their heads trapped inside the shimmering ball. The howling wind and the shrill ringing muffled her scream as the orb shrank, and Katie stretched out long and thin, like a girl-shaped rubber band.
Her panicked “help me” echoed down the disappearing corridor, one hand stretching out to them as the orb sucked her away. Her eyes bulged with horror or pain—or both. The orb winked out of existence with the sound of a single flame being pinched out with wet fingers. The room rang with sudden silence, the candle flames still.
“No!” Joe bellowed.
You can’t escape, Loti.
She snapped her head up, spluttered and spit as the water filled her nose and mouth. She heard that voice somewhere before, but she couldn’t remember where. “No,” she whimpered.
You are only fooling yourself if you think you can run away.
She squeezed her eyes shut while thinking, this is not real, this is not real.
Oh, but it is, sweet Loti, you are what you are and cannot fight it.
Loti trembled as something thick and hot and paralyzing slithered through the small shower space, her teeth chattering.
This is who you are –you are
“No,” she screamed so hard and so loud her throat seized up, and she dissolved into coughing spasms. The living heat squirmed its way through her chest, up her throat, filling her nose. She clawed at her throat and face. Dizzy, so dizzy. Don’t faint, don’t faint. She slipped and fell backwards into the tub. She had one more moment to think, don’t hit your head, and then all was black.
“Friends. Welcome!” Calisto’s voice boomed.
He stood on top of a large, flat boulder that jutted out from the mountain side. People whistled and clapped.
“We have the honor of some special guests tonight. The Travelers have agreed to lead us in song.” The crowd howled their approval as Calisto turned and held out his arms. “Guided, my friend.”
A beefy guy with a bushy beard and long hair stepped up, gripping Calisto in a warm embrace and kissing his face as they slapped each other on the back. So this was Guided—the leader of the Travelers, the ashram healer tribe. Most healers still lived in small tribes on the trail system that crisscrossed North and South America. Guided lifted his hands to the cheering mob, and they rewarded him with an outburst of rapid drums and hoots. A flute lilted over the noise, somehow penetrating it, and all went wild. Another man in bulky hiking boots, and a wooden flute to his lips, joined Guided as Calisto melted into the darkness. He lifted the flute over his head while the crowd chanted, “Peacemaker. Peacemaker. Peacemaker.”
“Om Namah Shivaya,” Guided shouted.
The crowd shouted it right back, while the drummers fumbled around. The people called kirtan until the drummers organized themselves into something a little funkier. Finger cymbals jingled and rattles rustled; their fearless leader, Guided, bobbed and dipped. He looked over his shoulder and nodded at Peacemaker, who brought the flute back to his lips. When Guided swung around to the crowd, his face crinkled into a pirate’s smile as he rapped:
“I dedicate this rhyme to the Goddess of Power,
The Daughter of the Mountains, she’s the source of all life.
The Destroyer of Fear, Shiva’s devoted wife.
She’s the bringer of Shakti and breath by the hour,
Parvati’s love makes all the demons cower.”
The crowd went ballistic, and Loti howled right along with them. Wolf’s chuckle in her ear was like warm honey in her belly and it burbled into her weary chest. A grateful smile lifted her cheeks. It felt so good and natural she touched her face to make sure it was real. When she moved her arms, Wolf’s hands slid to her hips. The fire roared to life as several bare-chested men tossed logs into its heart, and Loti turned away into Wolf’s arms. He felt like shelter, and she sucked in air, light headed and over-heated.
Wolf held the base of her skull with one hand while his other arm circled her back. With her hands on his chest, it was so easy to surrender. Resting his cheek on the crown of her head, he closed his eyes, and they were one warm, drowsy body, high on the rhythm. The beat slowed and so did they. Loti’s awareness floated from the smell of wood smoke and peppermint on Wolf’s shirt to the cold, metal zipper on her cheek. His thigh tucked between hers while her soft belly pressed to his hard muscle, and their chests crushed together. His cheek slipped down her face, and his parted lips skimmed over hers with no direction or purpose other than to feel.
The sensations blurred—moist breath, skin-on-skin, no aggression, a moan. Something thick slid up from the base of her spine and weaved itself through all the small spaces, to the exact place where Wolf’s hand held her head. The music changed again and again, but she barely noticed as the drumbeat and his body cocooned her in warm half-consciousness. The music rattled to an end, and there was a long shuffling pause, wood crackling and the fire whistled. As if waking from a trance, she blinked sticky eyes and swallowed. Wolf loosened his grip, and she slid numb hands around him. Blood rushed back into her hands in biting tingles as soft, pulsing waves rose in her tailbone, crested in her chest, and crashed in her head.
“What is this?” she whispered.
“I don’t know,” Wolf murmured.
She lifted her head at the roughness of his voice, and he pressed a kiss to her eyelid, then stepped away, one hand sliding down her arm. He never lost contact as he slipped his hand into hers.
“It’s time,” a female voice said.
Wolf’s eyes shifted to look over Loti’s shoulder and they hardened. She spun around to Fiamette, whose face was lost in the contrast of black hair outlined in orange flame. Fiamette turned to look at the fire with anxious lines framing her mouth – suddenly, she looked vulnerable. Uncertain, Loti looked to Wolf who seemed to be at a loss with the woman, as well.
“Calisto’s waiting by the stage,” Fiamette said to the fire, then hurried off, morphing into a black shadow against the flames.
Melissa Lummis considers herself a truth seeker, a peaceful warrior, a paranormal and fantasy writer, an avid reader, a thru-hiker GA->ME ’98, a wife, a mother, and a free thinker. She believes the universe conspires to help an adventurer. And if we live our lives as if it is a daring adventure (and it is!), then everything we need will find its way to us.
The author lives in rural Virginia with her husband, two children, an Alaskan Malamute and a myriad of forest creatures. The nature of her mind dictates that she write to stay sane. Otherwise, her fertile imagination takes off on tangents of its own accord, creating scenarios and worlds that confuse the space-time continuum. Namaste, dear friends.