Stevie Rae woke up feeling like a big ol’ pile of poo. Well, actually, she felt like a big ol’ pile of stressed-out poo.
She’d Imprinted with Rephaim.
She’d almost burned up on that rooftop.
For a second she remembered the excellent season two True Blood episode where Goderick had burned his own self up on a fictional roof. Stevie Rae
snorted a laugh. “It looked way easier on TV.”
“Sweet weeping puppies, Dallas! You nearly scared me spitless.” Stevie Rae clutched at the white, hospital-like sheet that covered her. “What in the Sam
Hill are you doin’ here?”
Dallas frowned. “Jeez, settle down. I came up here a little after dusk to check on you, and Lenobia told me it’d be okay to sit here for a while in case you
woke up. You’re awful jumpy.”
“I almost died. I think I have the right to be a little jumpy.”
Dallas looked instantly contrite. He scooted the little side chair closer and took her hand. “Sorry. You’re right. Sorry. I was real scared when Erik told
everyone what had happened.”
“What did Erik say?”
His warm brown eyes hardened. “That you almost burned up on that roof.”
“Yeah, it was really stupid. I tripped and fell and hit my head.” Stevie Rae had to look away from his gaze while she spoke. “When I woke up, I was
“Save that load of crap for Erik and Lenobia and the rest of ’em. Those assholes tried to kill you, didn’t they?”
“Dallas, I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about.” She tried to take her hand from his, but he held tight.
“Hey.” His voice softened and he touched her face, pulling her gaze back to his. “It’s just me. You know you can tell me the truth, and I’ll keep my mouth
Stevie Rae blew out a long breath. “I don’t want Lenobia or any of them to know, especially not any of the blue fledglings.”
Dallas stared at her a long time before he spoke. “I won’t say anything to anyone, but you gotta know I think you’re makin’ a big mistake. You can’t keep
“I’m not protectin’ ’em!” she protested. This time she held tight to Dallas’s safe, warm hand, trying through touch to get him to understand something she
could never tell him. “I just want to deal with this—all of this—my own way. If everyone knows they tried to trap me up there, then it’ll all be out of my
hands.” And what if Lenobia grabs Nicole and her group, and they tell her about Rephaim? The sickening thought was a guilty whisper through Stevie Rae’s
“What are you gonna do about them? You can’t just let them get away with this.”
“I won’t. But they’re my responsibility, and I’m gonna take care of them myself.”
Dallas grinned. “You’re gonna kick their butts, huh?”
“Somethin’ like that,” Stevie Rae said, clueless about what she was going to do. Then she hastily changed the subject. “Hey, what time is it? I think I’m
Dallas’s grin changed to laughter as he stood up. “Now that sounds like my girl!” He kissed her forehead and then turned to the mini-fridge that was
tucked within the metallic shelving across the room. “Lenobia told me there’s baggies of blood in here. She said as fast as you’ve been healing and as deep as
you’ve been sleeping, you’d probably wake up hungry.”
While he went for the blood baggies, Stevie Rae sat up and gingerly peeked down the back of her generic hospital gown, wincing a little at how stiff the
movement made her feel. She expected the worst. Seriously, her back had been like nasty burned hamburger when Lenobia and Erik had pulled her from the
hole she’d made in the earth. Pulled her from Rephaim.
Don’t think about him now. Just focus on—
“Ohmygoodness,” Stevie Rae whispered in awe as she stared at what she could see of her back. It wasn’t hamburgered anymore. It was smooth. Bright
pink, as if she’d gotten sunburned, but smooth and new-looking, like baby skin.
“That’s amazing.” Dallas’s voice was hushed. “A real miracle.”
Stevie Rae looked up at him. Their eyes met and held.
“You scared me good, girl,” he said. “Don’t do that again, ’kay?”
“I’ll try my best not to,” she said softly.
Dallas leaned forward and carefully, with just the tips of his fingers, touched the fresh pink skin at the back of her shoulder. “Does it still hurt?”
“Not really. I’m just kinda stiff.”
“Amazing,” he repeated. “I mean, I know Lenobia said you’d been healing while you were sleepin’, but you were hurt real bad, and I just didn’t expect
“How long have I been asleep?” She cut him off, trying to imagine the consequences of Dallas’s telling her she’d been out for days and days. What would
Rephaim think if she didn’t show up? Worse—what would he do?
“It’s just been one day.”
Relief flooded her. “One day? Really?”
“Yeah, well, dusk was a couple hours ago, so you’ve technically been sleepin’ longer than one day. They brought you back here yesterday after sunrise. It
was pretty dramatic. Erik drove the Hummer right across the grounds, knocked down a fence, and floored it straight into Lenobia’s barn. Then we all
scrambled like crazy to carry you through the school up here to the infirmary.”
“Yeah, I talked to Z in the Hummer on the way back here, and I was feelin’ almost okay, but then it was like someone turned out the lights on me. I think I
“I know ya did.”
“Well, that’s a dang shame.” Stevie Rae let herself smile. “I woulda liked seeing all that drama.”
“Yeah”—he grinned back at her—“that’s exactly what I thought once I got over thinkin’ you were gonna die.”
“I’m not gonna die,” she said firmly.
“Well, I’m glad to hear it.” Dallas bent, cupped her chin in his hand, and kissed her tenderly on the lips.
With a strange, automatic reaction, Stevie Rae jerked away from him.
“Uh, how about that blood baggie?” she said quickly.
“Oh, yeah.” Dallas shrugged off her rejection, but his cheeks were unnaturally pink when he handed her the bag. “Sorry, I wasn’t thinkin’. I know you’re
hurt, and ya don’t feel like, er, well, you know . . .” His voice trailed off, and he looked super uncomfortable.
Stevie Rae knew she should say something. After all, she and Dallas did have a thing together. He was sweet and smart, and he proved he understood her
by standing there, looking all sorry, and kinda lowering his head in an adorable way that made him look like a little boy. And he was cute—tall and lean, with
just the right amount of muscles and thick hair the color of sand. She actually liked kissing him. Or she used to.
Didn’t she still?
An unfamiliar sense of unease kept her from finding the words that would make him feel better, so instead of speaking, Stevie Rae took the baggie from
him, tore open the corner, and upended it, letting the blood drain down the back of her throat and expand like a mega shot of Red Bull from her stomach to
energize the rest of her body.
She didn’t want to, but somewhere deep inside her, Stevie Rae weighed the difference between how this normal, mortal, ordinary blood made her feel—
and how Rephaim’s blood had been like a lightning strike of energy and heat.
Her hand shook only a little when she wiped her mouth and finally looked up at Dallas.
“That better?” he asked, looking unfazed by their strange exchange and like his familiar, sweet self again.
“Could I have one more?”
He smiled and held another baggie out to her. “Already ahead of you, girl.”
“Thanks, Dallas.” She paused before slurping down the second one. “I don’t feel totally one hundred percent right now. Ya know?”
Dallas nodded. “I know.”
“Yep,” he said. “If you’re okay—we’re okay.”
“Well, this’ll help.” Stevie Rae was upending the baggie when Lenobia came in the room.
“Hey, Lenobia—check out Sleeping Beauty finally waking up,” Dallas said.
Stevie Rae guzzled the last bloody drop and turned to the door, but the hello smile she’d already put on her face froze at her first glimpse of Lenobia.
The Mistress of Horses had been crying. A lot.
“Ohmygoodness, what is it?” Stevie Rae was so shaken by seeing the usually strong professor in tears that her first reaction was to pat the bed next to her,
inviting Lenobia to sit with her, just like her mama used to do when she’d hurt herself and come crying to be fixed.
Lenobia took several wooden steps into the room. She didn’t sit on Stevie Rae’s bed. She stood at the foot of it and drew a deep breath as if readying
herself to do something really terrible.
“Do you want me to go?” Dallas asked hesitantly.
“No. Stay. She might need you.” Lenobia’s voice was rough and thick with tears. She met Stevie Rae’s eyes. “It’s Zoey. Something’s happened.”
A jolt of fear zapped Stevie Rae in the gut, and the words burst from her before she could stop them. “She’s fine! I talked to her, remember? When we
were leavin’ the depot, before all that daylight and pain and stuff caught up to me, and I passed out. That was just yesterday.”
“Erce, my friend who serves as assistant to the High Council, has been trying to contact me for hours. I’d foolishly left my phone in the Hummer, so I
didn’t speak to her until just now. Kalona killed Heath.”
“Shit!” Dallas gasped.
Stevie Rae ignored him and stared at Lenobia. Rephaim’s dad had killed Heath! The sick fear in her gut was getting worse and worse by the second.
“Zoey’s not dead. I’d know it if she was dead.”
“Zoey’s not dead, but she saw Kalona kill Heath. She tried to stop him and couldn’t. It shattered her, Stevie Rae.” Tears had started to leak down
Lenobia’s porcelain cheeks.
“Shattered her? What does that mean?”
“It means her body still breathes, but her soul is gone. When a High Priestess’s soul is shattered, it is only a matter of time before her body fades from this
“Fades? I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about. Are you tryin’ to tell me she’s going to disappear?”
“No,” Lenobia said raggedly. “She’s going to die.”
Stevie Rae’s head started to shake back and forth, back and forth. “No. No. No! We just gotta get her here. She’ll be fine then.”
“Even if her body returns here, Zoey isn’t coming back, Stevie Rae. You have to prepare yourself for that.”
“I won’t!” Stevie Rae yelled. “I can’t! Dallas, get me my jeans and stuff. I gotta get outta here. I gotta figure out a way to help Z. She didn’t give up on
me, and I’m not givin’ up on her.”
“This isn’t about you.” Dragon Lankford spoke from the open doorway to the infirmary room. His strong face was drawn and haggard with the newness of
the loss of his mate, but his voice was calm and sure. “It’s about the fact that Zoey faced a grief she could not bear. And I do understand something about
grief. When it shatters a soul, the path to return to the body is broken, and without the infilling of spirit, our bodies die.”
“No, please. This can’t be right. This can’t be happening,” Stevie Rae told him.
“You are the first red vampyre High Priestess. You have to find the strength to accept this loss. Your people will need you,” Dragon said.
“We don’t know where Kalona has fled, nor do we know Neferet’s role in all of this,” Lenobia said.
“What we do know is that Zoey’s death would be an excellent time for them to strike against us,” Dragon added.
Zoey’s death . . . The words echoed through Stevie Rae’s mind, leaving behind shock and fear and despair.
“Your powers are vast. The swiftness of your recovery proves that,” Lenobia said. “And we will need every power we can harness to meet the darkness I
feel certain is going to descend upon us.”
“Control your grief,” Dragon said. “And take up Zoey’s mantle.”
“No one can be Zoey!” Stevie Rae cried.
“We’re not asking you to be her. We’re only asking you to help the rest of us fill the void she leaves,” Lenobia said.
“I have—I have to think,” Stevie Rae said. “Would y’all leave me alone for a while? I want to get dressed and think.”
“Of course,” Lenobia said. “We will be in the Council Chamber. Meet us there when you are ready.” She and Dragon left the room silently, grief-stricken
“Hey, are you okay?” Dallas moved to her, reaching out to take her hand.
She only let him touch her for a moment before she squeezed his hand and withdrew. “I need my clothes.”
“I found ’em there in that closet.” Dallas jerked his head toward the cabinets on the opposite side of the room.
“Good, thanks,” Stevie Rae said quickly. “You gotta leave so I can get dressed.”
“You didn’t answer my question,” he said, watching her closely.
“No. I’m not okay, and I’m not gonna be as long as they keep sayin’ Z’s gonna die.”
“But, Stevie Rae, even I’ve heard about what happens when a soul leaves a body—the person dies,” he said, obviously trying to say the harsh words
“Not this time,” Stevie Rae said. “Now go on outta here so I can get dressed.
Dallas sighed. “I’ll be waiting outside.”
“Fine. I won’t take too long.”
“Take your time, girl,” Dallas said softly. “I don’t mind waiting.”
But as soon as the door shut, Stevie Rae didn’t jump up and throw on her clothes like she’d meant to. Instead her memory was too busy flipping through
her Fledgling Handbook 101 and stopping at a super-sad story about an ancient soul-shattered High Priestess. Stevie Rae couldn’t remember what had caused
the priestess’s soul to shatter—she didn’t remember much about the story, actually—except that the High Priestess had died. No matter what anyone had tried
to do to save her—the High Priestess had died.
“The High Priestess died,” Stevie Rae whispered. And Zoey wasn’t even a real, grown High Priestess. She was technically still a fledgling. How could she
be expected to find her way back from something that had killed a grown High Priestess?
The truth was, she couldn’t.
It wasn’t fair! They’d all been through so much hard stuff, and now Zoey was just gonna die? Stevie Rae didn’t want to believe it. She wanted to fight and
scream and find a way to fix her BFF, but how could she? Z was in Italy and she was in Tulsa. And, hell! Stevie Rae couldn’t figure out how to fix a bunch of
pain-in-the-ass red fledglings. Who was she to think she could do anything about something as terrible as Z’s soul shattering from her body?
She couldn’t even tell the truth about being Imprinted with the son of the creature who had caused this awful thing to happen.
Sadness swept over Stevie Rae. She crumpled in on herself, hugged the pillow to her chest, and, twirling a blond curl around and around her finger like
she used to do when she was little, began to weep. The sobs wracked her, and she buried her face in the pillow so Dallas wouldn’t hear her crying, losing
herself to shock and fear and complete, overwhelming despair.
Just as she was giving in to the worst of it, the air around her stirred. Almost as if someone had cracked the window in the small room.
At first she ignored it, too lost in her tears to care about a stupid cold breeze. But it was insistent. It touched the fresh, pink skin of her exposed back in a
cool caress that was surprisingly pleasant. For a moment she relaxed, allowing herself to absorb comfort from the touch.
Touch? She’d told him to wait outside!
Stevie Rae’s head shot up. Her lips were pulled back from her teeth in a snarl she meant to aim at Dallas.
No one was in the room.
She was alone. Absolutely alone.
Stevie Rae dropped her face in her hands. Was shock making her go totally batshit crazy? She didn’t have time for crazy. She had to get up and get
dressed. She had to put one foot in front of the other and go out there and deal with the truth about what had happened to Zoey, and her red fledglings, and
Kalona, and, eventually, Rephaim.
Rephaim . . .
His name echoed in the air, another cold caress against her skin, wrapping around her. Not just touching her back but skimming down the length of her
arms and swirling around her waist and over her legs. And everywhere the coolness touched, it was like a little bit of her grief had been washed away. This
time when she looked up she was more controlled in her reaction. She wiped her eyes clear and stared down at her body.
The mist that surrounded her was made of tiny sparkling drops that were the exact color she’d come to recognize in his eyes.
“Rephaim.” Against her will, she whispered his name.
He calls you . . .
“What the hell is going on?” Stevie Rae muttered, anger stirring through despair.
Go to him . . .
“Go to him?” she said, feeling increasingly pissed off. “His dad caused this.”
Go to him . . .
Letting the tide of cool caress and red anger make her decision, Stevie Rae yanked on her clothes. She would go to Rephaim, but only because he might
know something that she could use to help Zoey. He was the son of a dangerous and powerful immortal. Obviously, he had abilities she didn’t know about.
The red stuff that was floating around her was definitely from him, and it must be made of some kind of spirit.
“Fine,” she said aloud to the mist. “I’ll go to him.”
The instant she spoke the words aloud, the red haze evaporated, leaving only a lingering coolness on her skin and a strange, otherworldly sense of calm.
I’ll go to him, and if he can’t help me, then I think—Imprint or no Imprint—I’m going to have to kill him.