Friday, May 10, 2013

The Eternal Dead Trilogy by Joelle Sterling



The first book in a new trilogy is a supernatural fest with teenage witches, vampires, and zombies in an urban setting.

With her acne under control, the braces off, and a new haircut, Holland Manning has discarded the nerdy girl image for a bold and edgy look. This is the year that she’s finally going to snag her long-time crush, football star Jarrett Sloan. But being realistic, how can a bookworm like Holland compete for Jarrett’s attention when Chaela Vasquez, his uber-gorgeous ex-girlfriend, is going full throttle to get him back?

Holland’s mom claims to be a witch, but her spells go awry and sometimes even backfire. Holland warily asks her mother to cast a love spell on Jarrett, and not surprisingly, the spell doesn’t work. But something strange is happening at home. Night after night, Holland awakens to flitting shadows outside of her bedroom window and eerie whispers, causing her to suspect that her mother may have mistakenly opened a pathway that unleashed something unspeakably sinister.

Discovering her own powers of sorcery that have been lying dormant, Holland sets off on a dangerous mission to vanquish the nest of teenage vampires that are picking off the students at her school, one by one.


Links:
GoodreadsAmazon  B & N
 EXCERPT:

Holland Manning’s hand wandered to the nape of her neck. She cringed as she touched the area where her newly shorn hair came to a point. She felt utterly naked—completely vulnerable with short hair.  Hair that once hung to her shoulders, now abruptly stopped at her jaw line on one side. The other side had been raggedly hacked at the top of her ear.

She’d asked for a layered cut—an asymmetrical bob.
“No problem,” the stylist had reassured her when Holland gave her a picture of singer, Rihanna. The stylist did a hack job. A first grader using a pair of safety scissors could have done a better job than that so-called professional.
Staring in the mirror, Holland winced as she analyzed her reflection. She tried to focus on her good points. Her skin was smooth and flawless, showing no signs of her long battle with acne. And with her braces finally off, straight teeth were a major improvement. Sadly, neither of these enhancements could deflect attention away from her scraggly hair. Allowing her hair to be hideously butchered like this was total self sabotage.  
Holland zoomed in on her nose, which had always been a problem area, and her nostrils seemed more pronounced, flaring unattractively. Her chin looked particularly elongated and pointy.
Oh, God! Angst-ridden, she closed her eyes. She envisioned streamlined nostrils and at least an inch of chin surgically removed.
Chaela Vasquez and lots of other girls at school had gone under the knife to enhance their looks. If Holland’s mom could afford it, she’d get some work done on her nose. Not a full nose job—more like a mini procedure. A few tiny snips to her nostrils would make a huge difference.
Glancing in the mirror, she turned her face to a different angle. There was no improvement, she still looked gross! Getting her hair cut was the worst decision she’d ever made. This horrendous style magnified her worst features. Heartsick, she fought the urge to cry. There was no time for tears; summer break would be over in less than a month, and she needed to come up with a solution.
Frustrated, she grabbed the swath of hair that hung limply in her face. This piece of hair had no purpose. She grabbed a pair of scissors and considered cutting it. With lots of gel and hairspray, perhaps she could give herself a mini-mohawk. Bad idea. Creative hairstyling was not one of her strengths. Imagining a far worse hair disaster, she put down the scissors, and released the handful of hair.   
Trying to blend in with the popular girls…the cool kids with perfect hair and impeccable fashion sense, Holland had attempted to step up her game, but now she wished she’d never bothered. She should have been content staying under the radar. Now, with such a noticeably bad hair cut, she could count on lots of negative attention.
Holland wouldn’t be able to handle kids pointing fingers at and laughing at her.  To become the butt of cruel jokes would totally destroy her.
Her best friend, Naomi was taunted every day. For some unknown reason, she never went to her parents or asked any authority figure at school to intervene. She bravely endured the heckling and jeering and withstood all the cruel pranks that were played on her. Now Naomi’s off the hook. Somehow, her parents found out what was going on, and had her transferred to an all girls’ academy.

It was painful to think about how cruelly Naomi was treated at school. No one should have to live like that. Thankfully, Naomi’s new school had a zero tolerance for bullying.
Holland returned her attention to the mirror. Hoping to find some redeeming qualities, she scrutinized her hair once again. Nothing had changed, and was terrifying to imagine how Chaela Vasquez and her groupies would react to her on the first day of school. God, I wish I could crawl into a hole and hide there forever.
All of her problems would be solved if she could go to the academy with Naomi. But that was out of the question, her mom could barely afford their regular monthly bills. Private school tuition was out of the question.  Maybe she’d consider the idea of home schooling me—at least until my hair grows back.
Way to go, loser, she chided myself as she imagined her heartthrob, Jarrett Sloan’s appalled expression when he took a look at her stupid hair.
Holland noticed her mother standing in the doorway, observing her. Her expression was hard to read, but Holland could feel her emotions: a mixture of pity and concern. To no avail, her mother had tried to talk Holland out cutting her hair.
“I thought I’d look edgy,” Holland said in an apologetic tone.
“It’s not that bad, Holland,” her mother replied, wearing a weak smile that failed to reassure. “It’s not like you lost a limb. It’s only hair…it’ll grow back.” Her words were followed with a headshake, which Holland interpreted as an unspoken, ‘I told you so.’
“Do you know any hair-growing spells? Something that works really fast?” Holland giggled as if she was joking, but the desperation in her voice spoke volumes.
“Well… I suppose I could do some research. Or I could ask one my coven sisters,” her mother said as she turned to go to her work area that was once the family dining room.
Her mother belonged to an online witch’s coven. She spent more money than she should on occult paraphernalia. Their modest home was overrun with candles, weird herbs, crystals, vintage jewelry, and all sorts of witchery tools. She’d recently launched a website, offering love and money attraction spells. Business was not exactly booming, but Holland’s mother was confident that word of mouth buzz would eventually send traffic to her site.
For as long as Holland could remember, her mother had dabbled in the occult, boasting that she and her daughter were the last descendants of a long line of witches. Holland had never taken her mother’s claims seriously. There was no proof that either of them had any special powers,
Last year, her mother was into astrology and numerology. Before that, she was reading auras and tea leaves. Her mother was such an embarrassment with her various new age interests, and lately she’s been getting a lot worse. Her interest in witchcraft was becoming an obsession—an expensive obsession. Her mother was spending so much money on the tools of her trade, she was neglecting important bills.
Still, in her desperation to get her hair back, Holland was willing to try anything—even one of her mother’s half-baked spells.
While her mother researched spells, Holland mixed a potion of her own: L’Oreal, copper-blonde hair color. Grabbing the long hank of dark brown hair that hung in her eyes and down to her cheek, she squirted the contents of the plastic squeeze bottle.
The end result, was streaked hair that didn’t look too bad. After flat ironing the front of her hair and applying gobs of hair gel to close cropped parts on the back and the right side, she miraculously ended up with spiked hair that looked sort of awesome.
Impressed with the results, she beamed at her reflection.
After a couple more approving glances in the mirror, she galloped off to show her mother her stunning hairdo.
In the dining—slash—work room, Holland was greeted by the sight of her mother sitting cross-legged on the dark tile floor. The table and chairs were pushed against the wall. She sat in the center of chalk-drawn circle.
It was on the tip of Holland’s tongue to blurt out that she didn’t need the spell anymore, but her mother was already mumbling a chant—something repetitive and indecipherable. Her eyes were closed while four white candles burned inside the circle.
Holland gave a little sigh.
Geeze, Mom! This is seriously overkill, she wanted to say, but her mother was so deep into the spell, she didn’t have the heart to tell her that she no longer required her witchcraft services.
In a moment of panic, Holland’s eyes darted to the curtains. She was instantly relieved to find them closed. The neighbors didn’t need to witness this embarrassing spectacle. They’d be freaked out if they could see her mother right now.
            It was bad enough that whenever her mother went out to the grocery store, the dry cleaners, or wherever, she’d walk up to total strangers and pass out her card, attempting to drum up business. It was so embarrassing the way people recoiled after her mother announced that she was a witch, and she could cast love and money spells. People sort of automatically assume that being a witch is synonymous with being a devil worshipper.
She hoped that her mother’s witchcraft obsession would end soon. Holland would be ridiculed endlessly if the kids at school found out that my mother was a witch for hire.
Holland gazed at her mother again, and decided that it was only fair to respect her efforts. She was after all, acting on her daughter’s behalf. Giving her mother some space and privacy, Holland quietly slipped out the front door.
At the end of the block, she veered off the main street, and zipped onto the dirt path, taking the short cut to Naomi’s house.
Naomi and Holland used to share the same social status at school: unimportant and invisible. Holland and Naomi had both always been more interested in having their noses stuck in a book than keeping abreast of the latest fashion trends. They were both on the D list as far as popularity went. But at some point during ninth grade, Naomi had dropped down to the F list. For no apparent reason other than the fact that she was a super smart, straight A student, she became a target for bullies.
With Naomi going to a new school, Holland would be utterly alone. It was clearly time for her to make an attempt to fit in with other students—the cool crowd. Though she hated to admit it, Holland was seriously considering dumbing down this year.

Displaying The Dark Hunger.jpeg
 
In this second installment of the Eternal Dead Series, normal reality is turned upside down as Holland and Jonas attempt to restore their taboo love amidst a dire clash among witches, zombies, and vampires. Since the demise of their leader, vampires have threatened to take over the peaceful town of Frombleton, brazenly roaming the streets while mingling with society and feeding on humans. And if that’s not bad enough, a zombie outbreak that was isolated to a separate rural area is slowly creeping toward the city, leaving a trail of ravaged corpses in its wake.

Hundreds of miles away at Stoneham Academy, Holland Manning is learning the ancient art of witchcraft and practicing her emerging occult powers. After discarding her nerdy girl image, Holland is finally well liked and admired for the first time in her life, but she’s finding it difficult to enjoy her newfound popularity when she’s aching for her true love, Jonas. A soul-stealing hex has forced Jonas to return to his homeland in search of a cure, and Holland is eagerly waiting to find out if his humanity has been restored.

Chilling and suspenseful, The Dark Hunger recounts the horrors of humans living among the undead—and the uncertainty of forbidden love amidst sinister forces.


Links:

GoodreadsAmazon   B & N

EXCERPT:

Standing in the entryway of the dining room, Holland Manning surveyed the room in awe. The dining room at Stoneham Academy was nothing like Frombleton High’s cafeteria. For starters, the ultra-modern space was flexible, serving as an upscale eatery and a commons area.  Located under a 15,000 square foot vaulted skylight, the vast, sunny room was surrounded by a colonnade and accented by wide stairways, balconies, and archways.  
She noticed that the students appeared to be extremely well mannered. Holland watched the girls lining up at the gleaming chrome and granite counter to place their breakfast orders, and marveled that there was no shouting, no shoving, and no unkind comments or slurs. Stoneham was nothing like her old school. Naomi would love it here, Holland thought, and then swallowed a knot of sorrow. Her best friend, Naomi was gone—her human life extinguished when she was turned into a vampire. She couldn’t get the memory of Naomi’s death out of her head; her friend’s horrific screams constantly echoed in her mind.
“Are you okay?” a concerned voice inquired.
Holland pushed away the ghastly recollection and found herself looking into the curious brown eyes of an Asian student.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Holland said with a faint smile.
“My name’s Tami Yoshida.” Wearing cut off shorts, glittery ankle boots, a silk kimono jacket decorated with sequined flowers, Tami’s fashion statement was fun and unique. Her glossy dark hair was styled in a high bun and accessorized with silver chopsticks. 
“Holland Manning.” Holland’s scanned Tami’s outfit. A girl like Tami would have stuck out like a sore thumb in Frombleton where everyone subscribed to a cookie cutter style of dressing, but here at Stoneham, where girls were encouraged to express their individuality, Tami looked trendy.
“I love your outfit,” Holland complimented.
Tami appraised Holland. You look pretty cool, too. Your haircut is awesome. You’re new here…a sophomore, right?”
“I’m actually a junior, but yeah, I’m new here.”
“That’s impressive. New students are only enrolled during their sophomore year. The school doesn’t admit new juniors or seniors. That’s the policy.” Tami shrugged. “Oh, well, your magic must be pretty powerful for the school board to bend the rules.”
“I’m not so sure about that.” Holland lowered her eyes bashfully.
“Don’t be modest. You can’t attend Stoneham without abilities. So, tell me— what are yours?”
Holland shrugged. The only thing special about her was her vamp-killing blood, which wasn’t something she wanted to talk about. She could have kicked herself for not taking the time to peek inside one of her mother’s spell books to learn a few magic tricks before coming to Stoneham.
“Hey, don’t stress over it. I’m sure your abilities are awesome.” Tami patted Holland’s arm and steered her out of the entryway and into the ding room. “I’m starving; let’s get breakfast.”
Walking beside Tami, Holland looked around and was surprised by the welcoming smiles that were cast her way. Stoneham was like another planet. At her old school, she was more likely to get the finger before she’d get a friendly smile.
Holland and Tami perused the breakfast choices printed on a greeting card sized menu. Serving food behind the counter was a slim, gray-haired woman with twinkly blue-green eyes. Tami introduced Holland to the woman named Ms. O’Malley.
“Your omelet, wheat toast, and green tea is coming up, Tami. What’re you having, Holland?” Ms. O’Malley asked.
Holland looked at Tami questioningly. “Do you have a standing order?”
Tami grinned. “I transferred my thoughts to Ms. O’Malley. That’s one of my abilities.” Tami gave Ms. O’Malley a wink.
Thoroughly impressed, Holland returned her gaze to the menu. “I’ll have the same as Tami. But I’ll take a cappuccino instead of green tea.”
Holland followed Tami to a table where they were soon joined by two other girls. “Hi Sierra and Giselle,” Tami squealed.
“How was summer vacation?” asked Giselle, a tall girl with a killer body and long waves of blonde hair. From the sunglasses perched on her golden head and down to the red-bottom shoes on feet, Giselle was swathed in expensive, designer wear. With all those pluses, Giselle’s obscenely beautiful face was sort of overkill. Holland felt an uncomfortable prick of envy and averted her gaze away from Giselle.
“My summer was a bore,” Tami replied with her mouth turned down. “I couldn’t wait to get back to school.”
Sierra was a slender black girl with a chest so noticeably flat, Holland wondered if she could even fill out a training bra. Sierra had a cute face a really cool hair that was close cropped and tinted pink.
“My summer sucked too,” Sierra admitted, shaking her head. “I tried to fit in with the kids in my neighborhood, but it didn’t work. They still treat me like an outcast. I ended up hanging with my auntie all summer, and that turned out to be a disaster.”
Tami gave Sierra a sympathetic look and Holland was waiting to hear what kind of disaster happened with Sierra’s aunt, but Tami interjected before Sierra delved deeper into her story. “It’s so hard to fit in with regular girls. You have to hide your abilities and that’s so uncomfortable. It’s like living a lie.”
“I know, right?” Sierra agreed.
“I’ve been pretending to be a regular girl my whole life,” Giselle commiserated. Holland shot Giselle a sidelong glance. There was nothing regular about Giselle. With her perfect features and enchanting pale blue eyes, she was as pretty as a film star. Furthermore, she reeked of money, and was obviously accustomed to sumptuous living. Giselle gave the impression of being pampered and super confident, not someone struggling to fit in.
 “Not only do the kids in my neighborhood think I’m weird, my family and I are on the outs,” Sierra added solemnly. “I don’t know how I’d survive without school.”
Having nothing to contribute to the conversation, Holland quietly munched on her omelet. As the other girls began digging into their breakfast, Holland observed Tami and Giselle sharing a look. Feeling self-conscious, she wondered if Tami was speaking to Giselle telepathically—telling her about Holland’s lack of sorcery skills.
Moments later, from Giselle’s side of the table, a packet of honey elevated from the sugar and condiments container and floated toward Tami.
“Thanks, Giselle,” Tami said pulling the honey packet from midair. Smiling in satisfaction, she squeezed honey from the cellophane packet, into her tea.
Sierra gave a wry smile. “You two are such showoffs.”
“Just honing our skills,” Tami responded, giggling.
Relieved that Tami had been making a request for a packet of honey and hadn’t been gossiping about her, Holland relaxed and attempted to socialize. “So, what’s your, um, gift?” Holland asked Sierra. She immediately regretted prying when she noticed the sad look in Sierra’s eyes.
Sierra opened her mouth and then closed it. Her eyes shifted back and forth anxiously, like she was trying to come up with an acceptable response. 
Giselle spoke up. “Sierra can penetrate solid objects.”
“That’s cool.” Holland said casually. Sierra’s gift was actually amazing, but Holland didn’t want to gush over the girls’ powers. Just like in her old school, she was starting to feel like an outsider. It was a little embarrassing not to be able to do any witch tricks. She glanced at Sierra. “Can you, like, stick your hand through mirrors and walls?”
 “Uh, yeah. Sometimes,” Sierra muttered, biting her lip and looking away. Clearly, something was bothering Sierra, but Holland didn’t pry.
“What about you?” Giselle asked. All three girls peered at Holland with great interest.
“Nothing in particular,” Holland responded, deciding not to freak-out her new friends with the disclosure of her vampire-killing blood. Most people—even witches—had no idea that vampires actually existed.
Giselle lifted a perfectly arched eyebrow.  “How’d you get into Stoneham without any abilities? I mean…we’re happy to meet you and you’re totally welcome here, but no one gets into Stoneham without having at least one special gift.”
“I’m a work in progress, I guess.” Holland chuckled uncomfortably, and then sipped her cappuccino. She noticed the three witches exchanging looks, and once again she wondered if Tami was secretly talking about her. 
                                                ***
  The first half of the day was devoted to regular classes: English, Algebra II, and Roman History. Boring! Things got more exciting after lunch with Divinatory Arts, Latin Incantations, Dream Working, Healing Arts, and Spell Casting.
Each afternoon class was more exhilarating than the last. Well, at least most of them. Latin Incantations was a snooze fest, but all the other classes, especially Dream Working held Holland’s undivided attention.
In Dream Working class, the students were being taught how to consciously dream. Holland was eager to try out what she’d learned when she went to bed tonight. Since she hadn’t been able to communicate with Jonas during her waking hours, she felt hopeful that she’d be able to make contact with him in her dreams.
In the midst of Spell Casting class, there was a message over the intercom that Sierra was wanted in the headmistress’s office. All eyes turned to Sierra as she gathered her books and stuffed them in her backpack. Sierra gave Tami and Giselle a forlorn last glance and then exited the classroom.
A buzz immediately erupted in the classroom as the students began to speculate about why Sierra had been called to Ms. Livingston’s office. Even after the teacher demanded that everyone quiet down, Tami and Giselle continued their discussion—telepathically. 

Displaying FF.jpg

Bestselling author Joelle Sterling concludes her vampire trilogy as a young woman must decide between love and saving her world. In the town of Frombleton, government and law enforcement are run by vampires, and humans can’t get justice—particularly after the sun goes down.

Holland Manning has been studying witchcraft at the elite Stoneham Academy. Having reached the rare pinnacle of Witch of the First Order, Holland is the only human who has the power to thwart the vampires’ heinous designs. She alone can save the town’s residents.

While devising a plan to overthrow the vampire regime, Holland is appalled to discover that another threat to humans has found its way to Frombleton: a growing band of ravenous zombies are prowling the streets, devouring the vampire’s food source and challenging their seat of power. And to Holland’s horror, at the helm of the marauding flesh eaters is the recently returned love of her life, Jonas!

No matter who wins, the human race is doomed unless Holland can make the arduous decision to choose victory over love.


Links:

Goodreads: Amazon  B & N

EXCERPT:
His skin was smooth, the color of burnt sienna with a hint of crimson. With his broad nose, luscious full lips, and strong jawline, Elson Chandler was an undeniably beautiful man. Coils of kinky-curly hair fanned out against the pillow as he slept. Bare-chested and wearing black briefs, Elson was lean and muscular. His athletic body did not require grueling workouts at the gym. Forever young, Elson’s good looks had been maintained for over three hundred years. 
From the confines of his satin-lined casket, Elson’s eyes opened at the sound of footsteps. He smiled faintly. Ismene, his devoted daughter-of-the night, was approaching with a glass of chilled blood. Her typically soft and graceful footsteps were uncharacteristically heavy and fast-paced. He listened intently, scowling as he heard a second set of footfalls that were shuffling and resistant.
“Let me go!” a high-pitched female voice cried.
Bracing himself for trouble, Elson bared his fangs. An instant later, he retracted the strong, sharp teeth and relaxed as he recalled the request he’d made before retiring at dawn: No refrigerated blood, tonight. I’d like to begin the evening with the taste of warm, living blood, and I expect you to make it happen, Ismene!
Ismene raised the lid of the solid bronze casket with its gold-plate finish, and Elson was surprised to see four bloody etchings on her slender arm. Gripping the sides of the gleaming coffin, he sat upright, and gazed at her questioningly.
“She scratched me,” Ismene responded, nodding at a squirming teenage girl who gawked at Elson through tearful eyes. Streaks of dark mascara and eye shadow smudged her face. 
“Why’s he lying in a casket?” the girl whined. “What’s going on? Are you guys in like…you know…involved in some kind of vampire cult?”
Elson and Ismene shared amused smiles.
“I have to go home; I really have to go,” the girl said, and then attempted to wrench herself free. But she couldn’t break away from Ismene’s vise-like grip. “That cop had no right bringing me to this creepy, old place. If I don’t get home soon, my parents are gonna be pissed. My dad’s a lawyer, and he’ll sue the entire police department for false arrest!”
“A lawyer, huh?” Elson repeated thoughtfully. “Interesting. Perhaps I’ll have him draft some contracts for me. I look forward to meeting your father.” Elson threw one well-defined thigh and then the other over the side of the coffin and climbed out of his resting place. “How’d we acquire this delectable creature?” he asked Ismene.
“One of the police officers picked her up at the mall; she was apprehended for shoplifting.”
“Naughty girl,” Elson remarked with amusement.
The girl shook her head adamantly. “I didn’t steal anything. I told the cop that there’d been a mistake. I was trying on headbands in Claire’s. I paid for all my other stuff…earrings and bracelets, but I forgot about the stupid headband.”
“Wrong place; wrong time,” Elson commented and then focused on the droplets of blood that trickled down Ismene’s arm. “What happened?”
“She attempted to get away, and scratched me,” Ismene said with a nonchalant shrug.
“I’ll take care of that.” Elson reached out. Without question, Ismene extended her arm, and Elson licked away the trails of blood.
The girl cringed. “Oh, gross! Look, there has to be some kind of mistake. I have no idea why that cop brought me here. But my dad’s gonna be furious; he’s gonna have that idiot’s badge, and that’s a promise,” she yelled bitterly.
Elson looked up, regarding the outraged girl with amusement for a moment, and then returned his attention to Ismene’s injured arm. “Your skin is much too beautiful to be scarred. Lowering his head, he swiped his tongue along Ismene’s wounds again, licking until the scratch marks miraculously healed.
The girl’s eyes widened in shock as she regarded Ismene’s suddenly flawless skin. “I wanna go home.”
“Relax. You’ll be taken home after I’ve fed,” Elson said casually.
“After you’ve fed! What do you mean? Oh, geez. Don’t tell me you guys are like…real vampires. I heard rumors at school, but I didn’t believe—”
“Be quiet,” Ismene snapped and yanked the girl forward. “Drink Elson; you need your strength. Tonight is the beginning of your reign and you must be strong and clear minded.”
“No! Wait! Ohmigod, please don’t bite me,” the girl pleaded, literally jumping up and down with fear. Her voice rose to a frenzied wail, “I wanna go hooome!”
“Shh. Shh. What’s your name?” Elson asked quietly.
Refusing to answer, the girl groaned and shook her head.
Elson penetrated her thoughts and discovered her name. “Tessa…pretty name,” he said fondly.
“How do you know my name?” she demanded.
“Lucky guess.” Gently, he grasped her wrist. “Relax; don’t fight it, Tessa. Okay?” His rich, baritone voice was soft and seductive.
“No. Don’t,” Tessa cried. “Let me go. Please. I don’t wanna be turned into a vampire.”
Elson put a finger under her chin and tilted her head up. “You won’t be turned. You have my word.” Tessa recoiled from his touch, grimacing as Elson began to run his fingers along the length of her arm. He closed his eyes, enjoying the feeling of the warm blood that pulsed through her veins. Elson’s fangs pushed through his gums, and a clicking sound reverberated around the room.
A ragged cry tore from Tessa’s throat. “Ohigod, ohmigod! This is insane; this can’t be really happening,” she babbled in terror.
“Be still and be quiet,” Elson commanded, staring hypnotically into his captive’s eyes.
Tessa’s shoulders slumped in submission. “Okay,” she agreed, her brown eyes suddenly vacant.
Elson’s gaze wandered down to the pulse at the crook of her elbow. He brought her arm to his mouth and plunged his fangs deeply into her flesh. Under Elson’s spell, Tessa’s only reaction was a sharp intake of breath.
Ismene observed yearningly as Elson fed on the teenage girl. He drank with great, thirsty gulps, and Ismene involuntarily licked her lips. Sensing her discomfort, Elson withdrew his fangs and said, “Come and join me, my dear.”
 In an instant, Ismene’s slender body was pressed into Tessa’s, her fangs deeply embedded in the girl’s neck. 
                                                                    ***
At seven-fifty in the evening, Bradley M. Jones, Esquire was still at his desk, hunched over a yellow legal pad. Pen in hand, he quibbled over every word of the brief he was preparing. His staff had gone home hours ago, but Bradley had an important case in the morning, and he was willing to work through the night if necessary. He didn’t mind working late. In fact, he preferred the solitude of an empty building. His thoughts were clearer in the peaceful environment where there were no ringing phones and no noisy conversations among staff. The ticking of his desk clock and the patter of raindrops that tapped against the window pane were the only audible sounds. There was a certain comfort in being inside, cozy and dry, while the rest of the world dashed around in unpleasant weather. 
The annoying buzz of his cell interrupted the quiet. He glanced at the screen and sneered when he saw his estranged wife’s name. “What is it, Nicole? Your substantial child support and alimony check isn’t due for two weeks.”
“Can’t you ever be civil?” Nicole complained with a long sigh. “I’m calling about Tessa. She hasn’t come home from school.”
Bradley’s face flushed with sudden anger. “It’s eight o’clock in the evening, and you’re just noticing that she isn’t home?”
“She told me she was going to stop at the mall after school—”
“I’m earning a living—running my firm and actively practicing law, while you lead a life of leisure. Your single obligation is to look after our daughter, but apparently you can’t even do that.”
“I’m a good mother and you know it!’
Nicole was right; she was a decent enough mother, but Bradley refused to admit it. For all the child support and alimony that came out of his pocket, she should have been a supermom.
 “This isn’t about us, Bradley. I’m worried sick about Tessa,” she said anxiously. “I called all of her friends, but no one has seen or heard from her.”
“Maybe she’s hanging out with some kids outside her normal circle—you know, the kind of kids that snub their noses at curfew and other rules,” Bradley said weakly. His suggestion sounded ludicrous to his own ears. Tessa was a good kid. She was responsible and trustworthy, and she didn’t hang out with losers.
“She’s had the same group of friends since grade school; she wouldn’t suddenly pick up new friends.”
“Well, where the heck is she?” he barked, now imagining that his na├»ve, fifteen-year-old daughter fancied herself in love with some smooth-talking, pimply-faced boy. A boy who was able to persuade her to get in his car and take a ride to Marshall’s Peak…or wherever kids went nowadays to make out. Fury washed over him as he imagined his daughter’s innocence being stolen in the backseat of a car.
“The mall closed at seven.” Nicole’s voice cracked. “Do you think we should call the police?”
“Yes, report her missing. I’m leaving the office now; I’ll be at the house in fifteen minutes.” Bradley disconnected the call.
He snatched his suit jacket off the bronze coat rack and grabbed his umbrella. Dangling his key ring, he hurried out of his office suite and walked swiftly along the corridor. He wanted to be standing in the driveway with the police at his side when the young punk with raging hormones, dropped off his daughter. After he finished roughing up the low-life character, he planned to press charges. A night or two in the slammer would give the sleazebag a powerful message: Bradley M. Jones, Esquire’s daughter is strictly off limits.
Striding urgently toward the stairs, he heard something that sounded like gusts of wind coming from the conference room, and though he was in a rush, the sound emanating from the conference room was too loud and too persistent to ignore. If a member of his staff had carelessly left a window open while sneaking a smoke, there was going to be hell to pay in the morning. Bradley had built his law firm from the ground up with limited funds and lots of hard work. Allowing a thief easy access to laptops and other expensive office equipment was unconscionable.
Frowning in displeasure, Bradley opened the door. His eyes scanned the darkness and sure enough, one of the windows was open. Blasts of chilly air filled the room. He reached for the light switch, but froze mid-reach and gasped. A form that was blacker than the darkness seemed to be suspended from the ceiling. 
“What the—?” In a panic, Bradley flicked on the switch and immediately wished he hadn’t. Defying gravity, a black-clad human form was grotesquely clinging to the ceiling like an enormous bat. The tails of its coat whipped and twisted, resembling furled wings. His heart thundering, Bradley gave a cry of shock as he gawked upward.
   Aside from its billowing coattails, the coat-clad creature was as immobile as a macabre chandelier. Sweet Jesus! What is that thing? Deciding he didn’t want to find out, Bradley inched backward, with his umbrella extended for protection. But when the thing ever so slowly turned, its head, showing the unnaturally pale face of a man with a leering grin and vicious fangs, Bradley’s umbrella clattered to the floor as he made a stumbling run for it.
Racing down the corridor with his heart pounding out of his chest, Bradley heard a heavy thud behind him. The monstrous being had dropped to the floor. The high ceiling in the conference room made for a pretty long fall, and he prayed that the beastly intruder had been critically injured. Or killed! But all hope was instantly dashed when something grabbed him by the shoulder. He was suddenly lifted from the floor by strong hands with nails like curved daggers. The nails sank into his flesh…down to the bone. Overtaken by blinding agony, Bradley shrieked in pain and terror.  


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