Strife: The Playlist

Music is almost as integral to my writing process as coffee.

Almost.

I mean, let’s not go crazy here.

Anyway. I’ve mentioned before that every book has a playlist. Part of my pre-writing process for a book is putting a playlist together. These help me not only with the overall mood of the book, but also by providing yet another cue that it’s time to write. I sit down, drink some coffee, check my email and stats, and then I start up my playlist and I know it’s time to focus.

Here are ten of the top songs I listened to during the writing of Strife. There are a few others, but they’re kind of spoilery, so I left them out. It should also probably be noted that there is some potty-mouth language in this playlist. (It is a list inspired by Molly and company, after all!) Just a warning for anyone checking it out at work or with little kids around. :)

Playlist: Strife: Hidden, Book Four

1. Paramore: Renegade

2. Florence + The Machine: Shake It Out

3. Garbage: Run Baby Run

4. Garbage: Why Do You Love Me?

5. Imagine Dragons: Demons

6. Pink ft. Lily Allen: True Love

7. Eminem: Survival

8. Eminem ft. Rihanna: The Monster

9. Rihanna: What Now

10. Katy Perry: Unconditionally

If you want to listen to the full playlist (which includes a few songs that I also listened to, but didn’t make the top ten) you can check it out here on YouTube. Oh, and by the way… Strife, Hidden Book Four is out TODAY! Yippee!!

Release Day! “Strife: Hidden, Book Four”

Hidden_Strife_SeriesCover_200It’s finally here! The fourth Hidden book, Strife, is out today!

What do you do when your most dangerous foe is the one living inside you?

When Molly Brooks fought her way back to Detroit after her trials in the Nether, she came back changed. The life she thought she had, the one thing that helped keep her sane, was gone. She feels wrong in her own skin, scared. And her powers… well. They’re just not working the way they’re supposed to.

She doesn’t have a whole lot of time to wallow, though. With two angry spirit daemons hell-bent on punishing her and the city she loves for her deeds, as well as war brewing between Detroit’s supernaturals, and certain members of the pantheon looking for revenge, Molly has her hands full.

But what she’s forced to face is nothing compared to the evil that lurks inside of her.

As her world starts to spiral out of control, as war rages, Molly finds comfort in the last place she ever thought she would. And she comes to learn, after a life spent alone, what family really means.

And how much she’s willing to risk to protect it.

You can grab your copy of Strife on Amazon. Please let me know what you think. As always, reviews on Amazon and GoodReads are very much appreciated!

OUT TODAY! Forever Night: A Hidden Novella

Hidden_ForeverNight_200If you’ve been missing your fix of the group of misfits and badasses from Hidden, you might want to check out the spinoff novella, Forever Night, which is free (today only!) on Amazon.

Forever Night takes place between books three and four and focuses on Molly’s awesome vampire sidekick, Shanti. While Hidden, in general, leans more urban fantasy with some paranormal romance, I think Forever Night is a little more paranormal romance with a bit of urban fantasy. :)

So, what’s it about? Here’s the blurb:

 

Each death she caused, each life she saved, was its own kind of prayer.

Shanti Williams has been saved by the Angel (as Molly Brooks has been called by the citizens of Detroit) twice in her life: once at sixteen when the Angel rescued her from a life that would have been a living nightmare, and again when Shanti, as a new vampire, came to her begging for death.

Instead, Shanti gained a home, a new family, and purpose.

With the Angel gone, and no one knowing when she’ll be back, Shanti is adrift again, but this time, she’s determined to make a life for herself. A good one. A life to be proud of.

Detroit’s supernatural community is at a crossroads, chaotic after the departure of the Angel. Amid the chaos, a few vampires are determined to do their part to keep the world safe. And they want Shanti to help.

Torn between loyalty to her current team and the desire to learn more about herself, Shanti has to decide how best to use her talents.

And her life only gets more complicated the night she saves a gorgeous mortal from certain death at the hands of a vampire. A mortal she can’t get out of her mind, no matter how hard she tries.If only she could use all of her renowned courage to let herself take a chance on happiness.

FOREVER NIGHT is a paranormal romance novella set in the HIDDEN world. It takes place after the events of Home: Hidden Book Three.

This is the story that my newsletter subscribers were reading along with as I wrote it over the past few months. I hope you enjoy it!

Also: reviews are hugely appreciated, as always. They are a big factor in helping others find my books, and I am grateful for every single one of them.

Have a great weekend!

 

Strife Trailer and Other Awesomeness

I put together a little trailer for Strife. I had a lot of fun doing it. It’s funny — book trailers are one of those things I told myself I’d probably never bother with but I really enjoyed working on this. I joked with my husband that instead of playing Warcraft for a day or two, I played with iMovie instead. :)

Enjoy!

 

Thirteen more days!

 

Other Awesomeness

A few other awesome things have happened in the last couple of days, and I am just feeling so lucky to have such supportive, wonderful readers. Two of my beta readers (who are a lovely group of people, seriously) created a GoodReads group for my books called Hidden No More to discuss, as they put it, “anything Colleen Vanderlinden.” If you’re on GoodReads, I hope you’ll check it out. There are a few fun discussions up already, including speculation about what the final book in the series will be like and the ever-important Team Brennan or Team Nain debate. Thanks for setting that up, Jennifer and Susan!

Susan and Jennifer have also been working hard on ways to get my introverted self out there a bit. They’re arranging a Facebook event for 6/3, which is Strife’s release date, and they’ve started organizing a street team to help promote my books. I can honestly say that neither of these things would have happened if left up to me. I suck at self-promotion and never in a million years would have had the gall to start a street team of my own, so I’m just really lucky that I have awesome readers who care enough to do stuff like this for me. Words can’t even express what that means to me.

As far as writing goes, I’ve started working on both the fifth Hidden book and the next Hidden novella. The Forever Night ebook will be available here on my blog on Friday — so be sure to stop by and download it and tell me what you think!

Finally, my paper proofs of Strife arrived  yesterday. I spent some time ogling them.

strifearrives

 

Thanks for reading. Have a great day, all!

Busy, Busy!

gardencollage

 

Things are busy here lately, but in that happy way of things when you’re working on things you love. The garden is shaping up; we’ve been planting and weeding and amending the beds, and our work is already paying off. Last year’s garden wasn’t exactly stellar, so we’re shooting for a much more bountiful garden this year.

Aside from gardening, things on the writing front have also been moving along nicely. Strife has gone through its final proofread and now it’s just in that final “check it over and make sure I didn’t do anything stupid” phase. We will definitely be ready for our June 3rd release! In addition, the ebook of Forever Night will be available from Amazon on Friday. Newsletter subscribers: you will have the final installment of Forever Night in your inboxes on Monday!

Next…

So that’s two projects down, and now I’m working away at the next ones. I finished outlining Hidden, Book Five this week, and that was a huge relief! I knew how it would end, but that whole “getting there” thing needed a bit of work. :) I am also about halfway through outlining the next Hidden novella. Newsletter subscribers, same deal as before: you get to read it first, with a new installment coming out every other Friday.

Personal Stuff

On a side note, I’ve decided to really put some effort into getting into shape. The whole weight thing is irritating to me, maybe now so more than ever. I’ve proven to myself again and again that when I put my mind to it, I can do just about anything I want. So that fact that I’m still not pleased with my weight, when it’s something I can definitely do something about, is just annoying at this point. My goal is to drop 50 pounds by the time the final Hidden book comes out in October. I need to lose more than that, but it’s a start! You know how they always say you’re supposed to publicize your goals so they feel more real? Yeah. Now I’m going to have to follow through and do this. :)

I hope you all have a great week!

Trusting the Process

Strife is done. The lovely, awesome beta readers are giving it a final look (because they rock, completely) and I am reading through it again on my Kindle to catch any errant goofs, but…yeah. It’s done. And I’m recognizing that finishing a book leaves me with a mix of emotions: exuberant, relieved, nervous, and maybe a little depressed.

Writing a book is a roller coaster. Theres’s the “I am goddamn unstoppable!” sense in the beginning, when I’m writing hot and reaching five to seven (and as high as ten) thousand words per day and the story is flowing and everything is perfect. And then there’s that middle bit, where things vary between “this is so much fun!” and “please for the love of god can this just be finished now” depending on the day. And then there’s the mad rush to the end, that moment of pure “oh hell yeah!!” when I type “The End.”

Editing requires an entirely different mindset: cold, cool, detached focus. It requires me to cut entire scenes that really don’t work, to recognize my own wordiness. It requires me to lose any sense of preciousness about the work. The good thing about it is that, for my entire life, no one has ever been harder on me than I am. :)

And then, it’s done and I’m nervous and having little panic attacks about “oh, should I have done THAT?” Closure comes when I’m starting the next book. And that’s where I am right now.

Starting All Over Again

It kind of boggles my mind to realize that I’m starting my sixth and seventh books (Hidden, Book Five and the next Hidden novella). And even though Lost Girl, Broken, and some of Home were written long before now, It’s really only been a year since I decided to take the idea of actually publishing them seriously. Lost Girl came out in December. Less than six months ago (and what a crazy six months it’s been!)

One thing I’m recognizing is that, just as I have a process during writing, I have a process for beginning writing as well. It looks like me screwing around, or faffing about, as one of my lovely Twitter pals would say. I read comics. I scroll through Pinterest and Tumblr a lot more than usual. I can’t seem to fill my head with enough things, enough images, enough music. I play World of Warcraft and observe the weapons and armor. And I get annoyed with myself, because I am supposed to be WRITING, for crying out loud.

I really don’t like this part of it. It makes me feel lazy and restless. But this is my process. I will reach a point (and I feel like I’m nearly there) when I just can’t stop myself from getting started. When the words will come, and I’m pulled into my own little fictional world again.

Here’s to trusting the process!

Scenes from “Hidden”: Belle Isle

My family spent the day at Belle Isle yesterday, and I took plenty of photos, not only of the kids but of the island itself. There are scenes in Hidden that take place on Belle Isle in Lost Girl, Broken, and Strife. I thought it might be fun to share the actual place that inspired a few scenes from the series.

What is Belle Isle?

Belle Isle is an island in the Detroit River. It is connected to the city of Detroit via the MacArthur Bridge, and is owned by the City of Detroit. It was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted (who also designed New York’s Central Park — in fact, this was supposed to be Detroit’s Central Park). The island encompasses 1.5 square miles of wooded areas, golf courses,water slides, beaches, and other attractions. It recently came under the supervision of the State of Michigan, and has been added to our MetroParks system.

Belle Isle Places

So, you get onto the island via the MacArthur Bridge from Jefferson Avenue:

macarthur bridge

Once you get there, you can take a scenic route along the water, or you can make your way to the interior of the island where you’ll find the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory, which opened in 1904 and was designed by Albert Kahn. It houses one of the world’s largest municipally-owned orchid collections.

conservatory conservatory3 coservatory2

There are several different “rooms” in the conservatory, with certain ones devoted to particular climates, such as tropical or desert.

Next door to the Whitcomb Conservatory is the Belle Isle Aquarium, which also opened in 1904. I absolutely adore this building. It’s not large, but every part of it gives you something amazing to look at:

belleisleaquarium1 belleisleaquarium2

Driving around the island, you see several fishing piers, beaches, and lagoons.

And then, driving a little further along, you see this area, along the waterfront.

mollynain

There are benches here, and parking on the street. This is the exact spot I envisioned Molly and Nain sitting during the scene in Lost Girl after they face the pyro and Molly steals his powers. The scene in which Nain realizes how well the two of them could work together.

I loved writing that scene. Sigh.

It’s also the spot Molly goes back to visit in Broken, when she’s screwed up over the feelings she’s developing toward Brennan.

So all of that is awesome. And then, there’s the abandoned zoo.

Yes.

It’s been abandoned for over ten years. And it sits there, going feral. This location is pretty significant in book four. Here’s a peek at the exterior of the zoo. I’ll be writing more about this after Strife is out.

belle isle zoo 2 belle isle zoo1

 

I hope you enjoyed this little peek at another prominent location from Hidden. I remarked to my husband that it’s funny: I have almost as many fiction-based memories of Belle Isle as real ones.

Thanks for reading!

UPDATED with Winners! Review and Giveaway: Elizabeth Hunter’s “The Singer”

Update: Thanks for entering! The winners, via Rafflecopter’s random picks, are Lucy McNally and Misty Denton Witt. Ladies, please email me at email@colleenvanderlinden.com with your email address and whether you would like “The Scribe” in addition to “The Singer.” Congratulations!!

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000030_00047]There were two books coming out in 2014 that I was ridiculously excited about. Books that set my fangirl senses tingling, that made me practically salivate at the idea of reading more about characters I’ve come to love.

One was Marjorie Liu’s Labyrinth of Stars, which I am not allowed to read until Strife is totally done.

The second was Elizabeth Hunter‘s The Singer. Which would have been part of my “get your writing done, woman” reward system as well, except that the lovely Ms. Hunter asked me to be one of her beta readers and I had the honor of reading the book a couple of months before it was released.

I love my life.

And I can say, for sure, that The Singer more than lived up to my hopes. The Singer continues Ava’s story after the loss she experienced in The Scribe. It shows so much more about the complex history and society of the Irin and the Irina. You get a look at Irin politics, at the different factions within it. So. Much. History.

And you get your first real look at the Irina. I’m not going to spoil it, but the Irina were so not what I was expecting, and they ended up being one of my favorite parts of this book. Ava learns more about her powers, even as she and the Irin try to untangle the mystery of where her powers came from.

I don’t want to give away too much of the story in case I have readers who haven’t read The Scribe yet, but….wow. This book is just everything I could have hoped it would be. In my bulb for The Singer, I said:

“Passionate, spellbinding, and heartbreaking — The Singer is all this and so much more. Hunter is at the top of her game, drawing you into a story of love, loss, bravery, and redemption. If you loved The Scribe, you will absolutely adore this sequel.”

 

And it completely is. I loved The Scribe. I fell completely in love with Malachi in that book. I have to admit that while I liked Ava in the first Irin Chronicles book, The Singer made me love her. I think part of it is that whole idea behind that Eleanor Roosevelt quote: “A woman is like a tea bag – you can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.” And seeing how Ava deals with everything her life has thrown at her made me root for her even more as the series has gone on.

This is a must read. You say you haven’t bought it yet? Or, you say you haven’t read The Scribe yet?

It’s okay. I’ve got you covered.

Today, I am giving away two Kindle copies of The Singer. If you win and haven’t read The Scribe yet, I’ll buy you a copy of that one, too. To enter, just leave a comment. If you tweet about the giveaway, you get an extra entry! Entries will close at 5:00 Eastern today, so, if you win, you can have your hot little hands on this awesome book by the time you get home from work. Happy reading! :)

“Hidden” Places: The Packard Plant

Detroit’s abandoned Packard Plant has been a prominent location in my Hidden series, and I thought it might be fun to share a bit about the plant for those who aren’t familiar with it.

The Packard plant is one of those places that seems to symbolize Detroit’s fall. Once upon a time, it was a powerhouse, a humongous 40-acre plant designed by Albert Kahn that produced classic Packards and Studebakers. It did that from 1903 until 1958, when the factory shut down. Over time, parts of the factory have been in use by various tenants, but it has never been up to full production since. It has fallen apart, reduced to glorified rubble under the ownership of absentee owners. It has become a “must see” location for urban explorers and those who have a thing for ruin porn.

It’s been featured in an Eminem video:

And a video about a guy taking a joyride through it on his dirt bike:

Why I Chose This Setting

I chose the Packard plant as a setting for some of the biggest, most life-shattering moments of Hidden because the idea of 3.5 million square feet of space sitting there empty and crumbling just creeps the hell out of me. If your mind is dark enough, the things you can envision happening there are enough to give you nightmares (and this isn’t even counting the real-life nightmares that occur there. It is not a place I’d want to hang out in.) It is a place so far gone, so dangerous to deal with, that the Detroit Fire Department has ignored fires burning there. Also, the fact that there is this large space, and it sits there empty and somewhat secluded provided the perfect backdrop for so much weirdness that (in my books, at least) could maybe only be explained by supernaturals. The fact that the plant has stayed empty for so long was what originally piqued my interest, and your mind goes to things like hauntings. In my case, it wasn’t hauntings so much as the presence of an inter-realm gateway that was keeping people away from the property.

The Packard Plant Today

The plant was purchased by a new owner in 2013, who vows to have the site up and running again. He’s hoping to get one of the Big 3 to start using part of the factory again, and he wants to use other parts of the site for a variety of uses, including industrial, residential, artist lofts, and (maybe?) a go-kart course (I don’t know. That’s what the man said.)

We shall see. Considering how long a whole lot of nothing has happened at this site, I don’t think anyone is holding their breath. This is kind of one of those things about being a Detroiter. You look at certain sites, certain buildings that have been empty forever, and every few years someone will say “hey! We’re doing to do something awesome with this/restore it to its former glory/build something here!” and then a couple of years later, nothing has changed.

Here’s hoping this becomes something great again someday.

Links for More Info About the Packard Plant:

 

Sneak Peek: Forever Night

Shanti’s book, Forever Night, will be out in ebook form next month. Those who subscribe to my newsletter have been reading it an installment at a time, but several have mentioned that they’d love to read the whole thing at once, and I figured those who want to know more about Shanti might enjoy reading more of her story. I initially created her as a sidekick, and in the main Hiidden storyline, she very much is. But she has her own life too, and I thought it would be fun to show what her life is like from her point of view. I had a blast writing Forever Night, and I hope you have just as much fun reading it.

I think Forever Night (and the other upcoming novellas in the Hidden series) lean more toward paranormal romance than pure urban fantasy. The love story developing in Forever Night is central to the storyline, and has a huge impact on Shanti’s evolving character. I will say that Shanti is a much lighter, happier character to write than Molly is. She’s younger, and, until she first appears in Hidden, anyway, had a nice, normal upbringing. I think I love her even more after writing Forever Night. :)

Here’s a little sneak peek at the first chapter of Forever Night. Enjoy! And I hope you have a lovely weekend and a happy Easter if you celebrate.

Hidden_ForeverNight_200Forever Night: Chapter One

The nightmare started the same way it always did. Shanti stood in the abandoned car plant, flanked by Levitt and Stone, Ada on Stone’s other side. Shifter packs, the Detroit police chief, Molly’s imps arrayed, waiting to destroy anything that came through the gateway.

The reappearance of Brennan had done it. No one knew he was missing, and then there was Eunomia, dragging him into the loft, both of them beaten, bloody.

Everyone had moved fast after that. Brennan had managed to give them an idea of what was coming before he’d passed out, and there was no doubt in Shanti’s mind that she’d join the team, that she’d do what Molly would have done; that she would stand against whatever came through.

So there everyone was: ready to defend their own realm from nightmares. Likely, about to die. They’d go out fighting. The plant was silent, eerie, as they stared at what looked like nothing at all, waiting for the world to end.

And then Molly came through the gateway, followed by a man Shanti had only ever seen in photographs; a man who should have been a ghost, but wasn’t. And behind them, a couple dozen huge demons, in their true forms. It had almost come to blows, but Molly jumped between the two groups, stopped the chaos with a word.

In Shanti’s recurring nightmare, in her memories, she watched as the Fates talked to Molly, as Molly and Nain argued, asked questions. And she saw something she’d never seen on her hero’s face, no matter how bad things had gotten: fear.

And that was when Shanti had realized that whatever was coming through was worse than any nightmare she could have imagined.

Molly shouted, told everyone to leave. Everyone. Shanti stared back at the woman who had saved her life, not once, but twice, not wanting to leave, not wanting her to face whatever was coming alone. The look on Molly’s face had said everything: she was scared to death, but this was something she was determined to do.

They’d all gone outside; demons, shifters, vampires. And they’d waited. Shanti could still feel, even in her dreams, the insane amount of power surging from within the plant, making the hair on the back of her neck stand on end, making her teeth clench and her ears pop. And then it broke, and the largest of the demons, the demon who had been bonded to Molly, let out the worst, most inhuman, most tortured sound Shanti had ever heard, and then he started running and Shanti was on his heels.

And when they got there, her hero was gone, nothing remaining but a patch of dust, and even that was blowing away in the breeze that blew through the broken-out windows of the factory. The demon fell to his knees, let loose another inhuman wail, and that was when Shanti started praying.

Shanti jerked awake, felt her heart give two quick thumps in response to her fear, the terror of that night. She rubbed her hands over her face, trying to calm her nerves. Nearly two years of the same nightmare, several times a week. She felt like she should be used to it by now, but there was no way to get used to seeing the one permanent thing in your life taken away. There was no way to remember Nain’s tortured howl, and be okay with it.

She sat up, glanced at the clock on the bedside table. Just after ten. She picked up her phone, glanced at it. There was already a text waiting. Levitt.

Text me when ur up. Lead from imps. Vamps this time.

She texted him, and he responded immediately. He’d meet her in the lot across the street.

She got up out of bed, tossing the covers to the side. Then she quickly made the bed, prayed her thanks for another night and asked for strength to save the innocent. Then she stepped into the shower, quickly washed, dressed in jeans and a gray sweater. She sheathed the silver dagger Levitt had bought her to her thigh, then pulled her curly hair up, pinning it haphazardly at the back of her head. No sense in giving whoever they faced something easy to grab.

She left the room she lived in at the loft, the one on the second floor, center of the building. The rooms on each end had huge windows looking out over the city and Cultural Center. Hers was generally known as the “vampire room.” Whenever there had been a vampire on the team, they’d lived in that room. It was windowless, had a door that could only be opened from the inside unless Molly (or, now, Nain) let themselves in with the key. As she walked down the stairs, she could easily hear what was going on with her team mates. Nain was in his office, ripping someone a new one. Brennan was staring listlessly out the living room windows. Stone was probably out on patrol with the Chief, and she could smell the herbal, exotic scent that told her Ada was likely working on a potion in her room. She called a hello to Brennan, who answered distractedly, then she grabbed some blood from the fridge, heated it up, and poured it into a travel mug.

No one ever made the mistake of borrowing Shanti’s mug, she’d noticed. They argued over people using each other’s stuff all the time, but she’d managed to avoid that problem. One of the advantages of being a vampire.

She got out of the elevator, walked up the driveway that led into the underground parking garage, then across the street where she could already see Levitt waiting for her, sitting on the crumbling brick wall that had once surrounded the lot. Like all demons, the cool night air didn’t bother him at all, and he stood there, all dark and brooding, in a black t-shirt and jeans. His human skin was pleasing; skin a shade or two darker than her own, shaved head, clean-shaven face. Dark brown eyes. His demon form, she knew from experience, was no less impressive, even if it did kind of freak her out. Her grandmother would probably have a heart attack, even thinking of her good Christian granddaughter hanging out with a demon.

She took another gulp of blood. She might yet feed again that night, depending on what they found when they got there. She made a face. Vampire blood was unsatisfying. Even less so than the bagged stuff she usually drank.

Now demon blood… demon blood was the best thing she’d ever had, she thought with a pang when she looked at Levitt. Demon blood, and demon sex.

Yeah. Losing her virginity to a ninety-year-old demon (still young, for a demon, but still) probably hadn’t been the best idea. She had a sneaking suspicion that nothing else would ever come close. Too bad all of the hot sex and delectable blood came with a heavy dose of possessiveness and general pissiness.

She sighed, a habit she hadn’t yet broken, and walked into the lot. At least they’d ended their relationship on a friendly note.

“Took you long enough,” Levitt said in greeting.

“Hello, Levitt. And how are you tonight? Did you sleep well? Anything you’d like to get off your chest?” She reached him, stood in front of him and took another drink, the bagged blood now even more unsatisfying now that she could smell Levitt, the slightly spicy, rich scent that was just him.

He just watched her, the only sign of his irritation the way he bit the inside of his mouth. “Hi,” he finally said, and Shanti knew it was as close as he’d come to exchanging pleasantries.

Okay. So it hadn’t ended on as friendly a note as she would have liked.

“That’s an improvement, anyway. Are we driving?” Shanti asked, and he nodded. They climbed into the black SUV Nain had bought for the team to share when they needed to go out on patrol, rather than letting them drive Molly’s car. Not that any of them would have even considered it. If Shanti had had her way, the car would have been sealed behind glass or something, a shrine until Molly got back. But Stone and Brennan had insisted that it should be driven so it would stay in running condition, and since Brennan was Molly’s boyfriend or whatever he was, he was the one that drove it.

It still seemed wrong to Shanti, somehow.

Levitt drove (he always drove. Always.) toward East English Village. The car was silent, the radio off because they wanted to be able to hear if there was trouble as they drove around. The smell of him next to her, the sound of his heart beating made her throat burn with hunger. Shanti rolled her window down a little, just to get some relief.

“You’re getting fangy again. Drink more,” Levitt said.

“Keep your eyes on the road,” Shanti said, looking out her window.

“Ready to admit your mistake yet?” he asked, resting his elbow on the car door as he drove.

“If I’d made a mistake, I would admit it,” Shanti said, rolling her eyes. “Thanks for reminding me on a daily basis that I made the right choice the day I walked away from you.”

He didn’t answer for a while. Then: “We should stop working together. This is stupid.”

Shanti crossed her arms over her chest. “Yeah. You want to be the one to tell Nain he needs to take time from everything else he has going on to figure out a whole new patrol schedule because your pride is wounded?”

“He’d probably understand, considering.”

“I kind of doubt it. Don’t be such a baby, Levitt. Unbelievable.”

“I’m seventy years older than you, vamp.”

“Then maybe you should start acting like it. We tried, we didn’t work. The end. Get the hell over it.”

They drove the rest of the way in silence, and when they reached the neighborhood, Levitt slammed the SUV into “park” with more force than was strictly necessary. They got out, and he started walking down the street.

“It’s a couple of blocks this way,” he said over his shoulder, and Shanti followed, thinking that having a new patrol partner would be an absolute dream come true. As they got closer to the house, they shifted into familiar roles easily, comfortably, like pulling on a favorite sweater. Shanti took the lead, able to hear better and move faster than the burly demon. He brought up the rear, watching her back, ready to spring should something surprise her. In two years of patrolling together, it hadn’t happened yet, but it never hurt to be prepared.

Shanti stood still, listened. She could smell the human, hear her breathing, quiet, shallow, as if she was sleeping. She smelled ripe; the vampire had had her for a few days and apparently wasn’t picky about her prey. Shanti sniffed the air again; she couldn’t hope to detect the vamp that way, but it would let her know if there were any other humans around. After a few seconds, she felt sure; the only bleeders she could smell were Levitt and the human woman.

She crept down the hall, holding her hand down, low, signaling to Levitt to keep the noise down, to walk softly. It was likely, unless the vamp was totally clueless, that she’d detected them already. Never hurt to be careful anyway.

They reached the room at the end of a long hallway, and Shanti could smell the human just inside. She opened the door slowly, looked around. It was a plain bedroom, windows boarded over, white walls, nothing but a mattress on the hardwood floor. On the mattress was the woman Chief Jones had given her and Levitt the task of tracking down: Aimee Wendsley, nineteen, from Indian Village. Rich parents, nice private school education. She’d gone out to dinner with her boyfriend and hadn’t returned a little over a week ago. At first, the boyfriend had been the suspect, an obvious one. But after a couple of days, Jones had gotten one of his signature hunches and called Nain’s team in for the assist. Without a second of hesitation, the big demon had given the job to Shanti and Levitt. He seemed to understand what it meant to her, and she appreciated it.

Shanti turned to Levitt after looking Aimee over. She was asleep. Exhausted, mostly due to loss of blood. Pale. She didn’t look as if she’d been treated roughly, which was a relief, Shanti thought. She’d already seen way more beat up, abused people than she could stomach.

“So now what?” Levitt asked. “Want to wait for her to make an appearance?”

Shanti nodded. “Take her. She’s out. I can smell something in her blood, kind of sweet. Off. Maybe the vamp drugs her to keep her asleep.”

“I’m not leaving you here,” he began to argue, and she held a hand up, sharply, stopping him from going on.

“Yes, you are. She needs to go. And I can handle one of my own kind. Go.”

Levitt glared at her, then went and picked up the young woman. Shanti escorted them back to the SUV, making sure they got away safely, then she jogged, vampire-speed (so, not really jogging, but it felt like it) back to the vamp’s house. She let herself in, stood in the bedroom the woman had been sleeping in, and waited.

As she waited, her mind wandered a little. She thought, as she often did, about Molly, sent a silent prayer that her friend was well. Brennan had been acting strangely, and she’d heard a murmured conversation between him and Nain, something about Brennan losing his connection to Molly for a while. She hadn’t liked the way it sounded.

It wasn’t long before she heard the front door open, and she silently went, stood next to the bedroom door. She readied her silver dagger, holding it up, at heart level, ready to strike.

She’d been queasy about this type of thing at first. About ambushing her prey. It felt like cheating. And Molly, then Brennan, had each explained that this wasn’t honorable battle, that it was hunting, that it was kill or be killed, and that losing was not an option, because more innocents would suffer.

So when the vampire opened the door and stepped into the room, likely looking forward to a snack, Shanti sprung forward and stabbed the silver dagger into the older vamp’s heart, watched her prey’s blue eyes as realization hit her, felt the vampire’s body convulse as it went into its death throes. Shanti watched, emotionless. “Amen,” Shanti said softly as the vampire died, each death she caused, each life she saved, her own kind of prayer.

The final task was to drag the vampire’s body outside, so it would turn to dust when sunlight hit it the next morning. The yard was surrounded by a tall privacy fence, with tall hedges in front of that. Easy. She rested the body near the shrubs and behind a large planter.

She left, locking the front door behind her, wiping her fingerprints from any surface she’d touched. “Should have worn my gloves,” she muttered as she wiped down the front doorknob. And then she walked, casually, down Iroquois Street, until she got to an open stretch of Jefferson, deserted this late at night, and she let herself run, and, for a little while, she felt alive.

* * *

She decided to check out her old neighborhood on the Southwest side. She liked to make sure it was clear of danger. Her aunts and little brother still lived there, and the idea of some vampire draining or turning Manny was unacceptable. She’d caught one or two around, but word seemed to have spread that the Southwest side was a really bad place for vampires. She walked, even walking down her aunts’ street. The house was the same as it always had been; Virgin Mary statue in the front garden, wide front porch looking like visitors were welcome at any time. She walked quickly past. That part of her life was over. Her family believed her dead, and that was for the best. How to explain to them what she was now? She couldn’t, and she didn’t want to. It was better for them to stay ignorant of the nightmares that walked among them, and she was just one more nightmare, now.

She was getting ready to head back toward the loft, another nice, long run, when she heard what sounded like a struggle in a nearby alley. She looked around. There was a small pizza place, a secondhand shop, and a martial arts studio. That was new; it definitely hadn’t been there when she’d lived in the neighborhood. The sounds were coming from the alley behind it.

Shanti ran to the building, then slowed down, slunk along the cinder block wall, listening. She could smell a human, hear his raspy breath, his heart thumping.

It was entirely possible she’d be walking in on something else happening in the alleyway. The first time she’d burst in on a couple messing around in their car, she’d nearly died of mortification.

But that wasn’t the sight that met her eyes when she turned into the alley. A vampire (obvious, from her pale skin and lack of a heartbeat) was holding a man up against the back wall of the martial arts studio, pinning him there. He was struggling, but he was also clearly losing his energy as the vamp sucked the life from him. Draining him.

“Hey!” she shouted, readying her knife again. The vamp turned, blood dribbling from the side of her mouth, and she hissed at Shanti.

Young. She was immature. Not past the blood lust phase. That’s when many vampires are at their most dangerous. They can’t control themselves. Shanti herself had killed a man at that phase of her second life.

Luckily, young vampires also tend to be stupid. Not terribly comfortable in their newer, stronger bodies. The vamp lunged at Shanti, and Shanti stepped to the side, struck out with a quick punch and sent the vamp flying into a nearby dumpster. The vamp tried springing at Shanti again, but Shanti was too fast; she saw her opportunity and took it, stabbing up with the dagger as the vamp tried to tackle her.

Once she was sure the vamp was dead, Shanti hefted the dead body into the dumpster, leaving it open so the body would fade away come morning. She shook her head, then turned to the man, who was still slumped against the back of the building, but was conscious, staring at her with a mix of fear and awe. He was still bleeding from the neck; the vamp had pulled her fangs out of the man’s artery without sealing the wounds.

Shanti approached the man slowly, trying to calm him. Even as she was trying to be business-like, she couldn’t help noticing that he was drop-dead freaking gorgeous. He looked like he was something Middle Eastern, maybe, warm complexion, light brown eyes, and the longest, blackest lashes she’d ever seen. His black hair was cut close to his head, and a neat goatee completed the picture.

The scent of his blood was making her throat burn, her fangs descend. She tried to keep them hidden from the man.

“It’s okay now,” she said softly, holding her hands out, letting him see her. “I’m here to help you.”

“You killed that thing,” he said, his voice low, smooth. A good voice.

“Yes. I did. Your neck is still bleeding. I can close the wounds, if you’ll let me.”

“How?”

Shanti hesitated. This was clearly a Normal, and one who had no clue what kind of mess he’d really gotten into. “It’s probably better if I show you. I swear I will not hurt you. Can you trust me?”

He stared at her. She held her dagger out to him. The other vamps’ blood, both the one from earlier and the one she’d just killed, still stained the blade. “You can hold this if it’ll make you feel better.”

He shook his head, still staring at her.

“This will only take a second. We need to make it stop.”

He nodded, then, and she approached him slowly. She angled his head, gently, trying to get access to his wound, and he stiffened.

“It’s okay,” she said softly. “I am not like that one. I will not hurt you.”

He didn’t relax, but at least he wasn’t trying to run away. He’d lost a lot of blood, and she was worried about him blacking out. Shanti leaned in, and gently licked at his wound, using her saliva to seal it, to heal it as if it had never been there at all.

She forced herself not to react visibly to the taste of his blood. Holy hell. Rich, sweet, warm perfection. She closed her eyes for a moment, savored the flavor of him coating her mouth. She took a breath she didn’t need, mostly to settle herself down, and she stepped back.

His gaze was on her, tracking every move she made. The man put a hand to his neck, then looked at his hand. When he saw no blood, his gaze shot back up to her.

“What are you?” he asked.

She regretted what had to come next. She didn’t like this part in general, and she felt even more of a pang over having to do it now. “I am the same thing she was,” she said softly, meeting his eyes, making it very clear that she wasn’t messing around. “If you breathe a word of what you saw, what you experienced tonight, I will find you. And you won’t make it out alive if that happens. Do you understand?”

God, she felt like a first-rate asshole doing that.

He nodded, slowly, eyes still glued to hers. “Thank you,” he said. “I don’t even know what I’d tell anyone. They’d think I was nuts.”

She smiled a little. “You’re handling it really well, considering.”

“I’m going to go drink myself into a stupor now, I think,” he said, and it made her grin.

“Not a bad idea. I wasn’t kidding. Not a word.”

He nodded. “What’s your name, anyway?”

She looked around. “My name’s Shanti. And you never saw me.”

And with that, she took off, at vampire speed. It wasn’t until she was nearly home that she detected another vampire, shadowing her every move.

 * * *

Zero stared into the night after the woman who had rescued him. One second, she was there, and the next there was no sign of her.

“My name is Shanti, and you never saw me.”

Her words echoed in his mind, etched into his memory. Zero looked down the alley for a while longer, then started heading up the metal stairs that led to the apartment above the martial arts studio he owned with a buddy of his, and let himself in. His apartment was sparsely furnished; a twin bed, a television, and a nightstand. A shelf with a few books and mementos from places he’d been. There was a small bathroom off to the side. The entire apartment was ridiculously small and the wallpaper had yellowed with age. But it was his, and that was enough.

He sat on the edge of the bed, looked down at his hands. They were still shaking, and he clasped them together, trying to force them to stop. He brought one hand up to his neck.

The second that first thing had grabbed him, all of his training had kicked in. He’d seen red, started punching and kicking out mercilessly. He was a more than competent fighter.

Against the thing in the alley, taken by surprise, it hadn’t meant a damn thing. He was overpowered within seconds.

And then he’d felt the thing’s teeth rip into his neck. At first, he had been in too much shock and fear to feel anything. And then he did, and it reminded him of that night, of shrapnel tearing into his body.

It reminded him, yet again, that an attack can come at anytime. Twice in his life now he’d nearly been snuffed out, with no warning.

Zero got up and went into the tiny bathroom. He looked at himself in the mirror over the sink. His T-shirt was caked in his blood; the thing had been really messy. And at first, he’d thought it was just ripping him apart, until he realized that it was sucking hungrily at his neck.

His stomach turned. He pulled his ruined shirt off and tossed it into the bathroom garbage can. He inspected his neck in the mirror. That was the even crazier part. There wasn’t a sign that the thing had ever attacked him at all. And that was all due to the one who had saved him.

Shanti.

He recalled the way she’d moved, the quick, efficient way she’d disposed of the thing that had attacked him. Watching her had been like watching a perfectly choreographed dance of death. He’d never seen anyone move like that, and even as he watched, even as he watched her approach him, he knew she wasn’t human.

And then there had been her sweet, soft voice.

The feel of her tongue on his flesh. Healing. Taking the pain away. Soothing.

He closed his eyes.

“I will not hurt you.”

Offering him her knife, trying to make him feel better.

Not human.

Like the thing that had attacked him.

Zero tried to shake himself out of it. He turned the water on in the tiny shower, stepped under the searing heat. He scrubbed his blood off of his body, let the water work some of the kinks out of his neck and shoulders.

He couldn’t get those dark brown eyes out of his mind. That voice.

It wasn’t the fact that there were non-humans walking around that really rocked his world. That was crazy, but that wasn’t the craziest thing that had happened to him that night.

The craziest thing was that someone had bothered to care for him. That was something that just did not happen. Not ever. His quiet, sheltered ways, the way he glared at everybody, the way he was always on edge, waiting for, expecting, an attack, kept everyone away. And he wanted it that way.

He didn’t pray. He didn’t believe there was something bigger out there watching out for him. He didn’t believe in heaven, hell, gods or devils. But he knew that the fact that he was going to live to see another day was thanks to the gorgeous, graceful, deadly being who’d appeared at just the right time.

Zero got out of the shower, pulled on a pair of sweats, and went back into his room, checking the door and window locks before settling onto the squeaky mattress.

“My name is Shanti. And you never saw me.”

* * *