THRONE OF OAK (Maggie's Grove #2)

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dana marie bell


Book two of Maggie's Grove Vampire Dragos Ibanescu, Mayor of Maggie's Grove, is about to lose his mind. His mate, the dryad queen Mina Chainey, refuses to have anything to do with him after her ordeal at the hands of an evil witch. If he doesn't mate with her soon, he may lose control of the beast within him—a force far more dangerous than anyone in town knows… Mina's nightmares of her time with the witch haunt her. The Queen of the Forest can't muster the strength needed to fight her terror. Unable to leave the Throne, she vows she will not accept Dragos until she can stand at his side as an equal. But the nightmares are only growing in strength, and soon she realizes that there's more to her pain than simple fear. Dark forces are converging on Maggie's Grove, and a horde of hunters stalk supernaturals from the shadows. Only by uniting in body and mind will Mina and Dragos find the strength to defend their home. Delve into the Grove with Blood of the Maple.


chapter 1

“Are we there yet?”

Dragomir “Dragos” Ibanescu, the mayor of Maggie’s Grove and the oldest vampire in the town, damn near bit his tongue in order to keep silent. Parker had been driving him insane with his commentary all through their flight, and he was ready to strangle the younger vampire.

Why had Parker come with him? Dragos had been more than willing to fly solo—but no. Parker had insisted on accompanying Dragos as he soared above Maggie’s Grove checking for trouble. The man had been a pain in his ass ever since his sotiei, Amara, had joined with her tree, communing with it in the way of all dryads. She’d needed it after the fight to save the town from Terri—the deranged witch who’d been hunting Parker. Amara was a hamadryad, a rare creature only heard about in myths and legends. She was literally one with her tree in ways other dryads were not. When her life or the life of something Amara cared about was in danger, she became part tree, using the strength and stamina of the forest to protect and defend. She was a guardian in the truest sense of the word, and she served Maggie’s

Grove despite their rough treatment of her when she first stepped out into

the world. Her adoptive mother, Glinda, had chosen to hide Amara’s uniqueness, and because she had been underage the Queen of the Forest had been forced to bow to Glinda’s edict, avoiding Amara completely.

This had led to Amara having a very lonely childhood, something Dragos had tried to rectify to no avail as the girl grew into a beautiful woman. It

wasn’t until Parker arrived that she truly came into her own, becoming what Dragos had always known she could be—a loving partner and a fierce


But every dryad needed to commune with their tree, becoming one with it after stressful events. What the witch Terri had attempted to do to both Parker and the town had been beyond stressful. It cost them one of their own. Amara had been blamed for the death of young Ken, and she’d been inconsolable. Things in the town had been tense until Parker, Dragos,

Bryan, Greg and Selena had proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that the blame could only be placed on the witch who had attacked them all.

It had been four weeks since Terri had been killed, four weeks where all of them hurt. The town was still deep in recovery as they made plans to rebuild both the town hall, and The Greenhouse and repair the damage Terri had wrought. It was an all-consuming job that left Dragos with very little

time to deal with anything else, even a hamadryad in mourning. Hell, he barely had time to, visit his own sotiei.

So Amara was communing.

And her vampire lover was bored out of his ever-loving mind.

She’d waited until after the huge party Dragos gave annually to become one with her tree. Soon after Parker started wandering around town, getting himself into trouble with just a casual smile and a few choice words. Even his Renfield, Brian, had called Dragos up, desperate to find a way to distract Parker before any more feuds broke out.

The man had a talent, Dragos had to give him that.

Recently, Parker had decided for some ungodly reason that Dragos needed cheering up. Dragos blamed Brian and Greg, Parker’s Renfields, for his sudden intrusion into Dragos’s life. Dragos would rather have his fangs drilled than have Parker’s brand of help, but Parker meant well. It wasn’t

entirely his fault Dragos wanted to drop him in a volcano. All Dragos

wanted to do was have a quiet evening flight, enjoy the warm night air of early summer blowing against his face, and contemplate the painful

situation he found himself in.

Some days he wished he’d never left Romania.

“The snacks on this flight are rather light, aren’t they?”

Dragos growled. Why in the name of the gods had Amara wound up the sotiei of the most annoying vampire in existence? She was sweet and kind and loving, and Parker was—

“I wonder what the in-flight movie will be.”

Dragos came to a stop, hovering in the air as he glared at Mr. Annoyance. “Death of a Vampire.”

“Well.” Parker sniffed. “Someone woke up on the wrong side of the coffin this evening.”


“What?” Parker tried to sail serenely past him, but Dragos snagged his arm, halting his progress. Parker sighed. “Really, Dragos. Have you ever

seen those cartoons where a flying child is all hangdog and droopy because they didn’t get an ice cream cone or something equally stupid? Like a Superman costume or some such?” Parker hunched over, apparently imitating said children, his expression filled with such exaggerated melancholy Dragos almost smiled. Parker might be aggravating, but he had the ability to make the people around him smile with his goofy ways and

staggering loyalty. “Woe is me, I have been denied the shiny underpants of a superhero.”

Dragos chuckled reluctantly. “Idiot. And I’m not droopy.” True, Dragos had been a little...very well, a lot upset recently.

His sotiei refused to speak to him, hiding in the Throne and denying him entry every time he went to visit her. The sacred circle of trees that created the Throne of Oak could hold against the strongest of predators, but it had given way beneath the dark lash of an evil witch bent on destroying Parker and anyone he cared about.

Mina, the dryad queen, had been but an object for the witch to use to bolster her power.

The abuse Mina had suffered had nearly destroyed her.

If he closed his eyes he could still see Mina—her dark hair damp with sweat and blood, her body pinned to the great oak by thorny weeds,

writhing in agony as they bent and twisted inside her. Dragos had been forced to use power he had not called upon in centuries to heal the horrific wounds, but he couldn’t repair the damage to her soul. Selena knew what he’d done, had covered for him with her own healing light, but the damage had been too much for even her powers. She’d healed the spiritual wounds as best she could, repaired the damaged threads that bound the dryad to her tree, but it had been Dragos who healed most of Mina’s physical wounds. The damage to her insides had been horrific, and her oak tree had responded accordingly, leaves dropping like tears in the face of the dryad queen’s agony.

Now she was hiding herself away from the world, wallowing in misery and protecting her tree fiercely while they both recovered.

“Please. If you were any more hangdog, I’d be forced to call you Rover.” Parker placed his hand on Dragos’s shoulder, his expression turning blank for a moment. It was the same look he had when he was talking telepathically with Amara. “Amara says you should know that the nightmares aren’t getting better. If anything, they’re worse.”

Dragos winced. Mina’s nightmares were what had driven her from his

side. He had no desire to put pressure on her when she was hurting so badly. Mina refused to tell anyone, even the witch doctor Selena, what the nightmares were about, but Dragos could guess.

Besides, his own situation was far from ideal. Kate, his former lover, had

been doing her best to get back together with him. She’d lost all her appeal

the moment Mina had stepped through the doors of the Town Hall and raked him over the coals for his lack of action where Parker’s stalker was concerned.

If there was a way to resurrect Terri and kill her all over again, Dragos

would do it in a New York minute. “She’s hiding from me.”

“She still won’t see you?” Parker floated down to one of the broken benches that surrounded the now abandoned Town Hall. More of Terri’s handiwork, and something the town council would have to do something

about. They were still arguing over whether or not to rebuild or relocate the hall. Dragos was all for rebuilding—for taking the evil and making

something good out of it—but he appeared to be in the minority. Even Selena thought they should raze the building to the ground, bless the site

and build a garden on top of it in honor of Amara and those they’d lost. And

when the witch doctor told him a place had “bad vibes” Dragos listened.

“No, she won’t.” And his beast was struggling harder and harder against the chains Dragos had bound it with, determined to go to its blood mate and claim her. If Dragos had been any other vampire he would have already have given in, his beast either forcing its way to Mina’s side or losing its life to Mina’s guardians.

“Talk to Greer and Ash. They might be able to help.”

Dragos snorted and perched on the arm of the broken bench. “They have their own problems, or haven’t you noticed?”

Parker sighed. “I have. Selena and Mollie are being difficult. I wish I’d

never encouraged Carter to start seeing Mollie, but it was the only way I

could think of to prove to Greer that Mollie isn’t gay. And Selena is...well, Selena.”

Dragos didn’t give two shakes about Mollie, Selena, Greer or Ash. He

couldn’t. His focus had centered entirely on the Throne and the dark-haired woman hiding within it. Nothing had been able to pull his attention away,

and soon not even Dragos’s...unique circumstances would hold the beast off. “When does Amara wake?”

“Soon, I hope. I’m starving.”

Dragos wasn’t surprised. As the only vegetarian vampire in existence, Parker’s dining choices were limited. He could sip the odd concoction Brian made for him, but his sotiei’s blood was far more nourishing than anything

that came out of Brian’s blender. “We need Amara. If she can find Iva, we might be able to pull Mina out of this.”

The combined power of Oak, Ash, Birch and Yew ruled the forest and all the creatures within, something they’d proven with razor-sharp precision

and ruthless cunning to the wolves that lived in Maggie’s Grove. But Iva Yamauchi, or Yew, had been missing for two months now and the other ruling dryads despaired that she would ever be returned to them. Greer and Ash had told Parker that Yew was not dead. No new Yew had stepped forward to lay claim to her title—something that would have happened had she passed on. Her tree, although sickly and pale, still lived, and the dryads tended it, hoping wherever she was it would lend her strength.

Without Yew, the power of the Throne was diminished. And so were Mina, Ash and Greer.

“We have to do something, and quickly. Why, Greg and Brian haven’t

tried to have sex on my couch in days, you’ve depressed them so.” Dragos rolled his eyes.

Really. Amara couldn’t have found someone less annoying?

Mina gritted her teeth, knowing that Parker and Amara stepped through the magical veil that usually guarded the Throne. Battle was about to be joined in the Throne, and there was nothing Mina could do to stop it.

Terri would also be aware of their presence, thanks to her link to Mina.

The vines gave her power here now, the bitch tapping into Mina’s

connection with the forest. Mina still wasn’t certain how the witch had gotten the drop on her, but one moment Mina was following Ash and Greer through the forest, and the next...

Well. Getting nailed to your own tree was top of her list on ways not to die. The great oak shivered, leaves falling to the ground like rain as Mina tried desperately to hang on. She had to live. She had to hold on, to bring the forest back from the brink. She had to survive, so that Amara would win.

The hamadryad was here, and Terri was dead whether she knew it or not.

“Parker,” a bubbling voice tried to croon. Mina shivered as Amara grimaced. The shambling, scabrous thing that had once been Terri was nothing but rot now. Mina wasn’t sure the witch was even technically alive, but some consciousness or force animated the weeds that had once been a human being.

Whatever she’d once been, Terri was no longer human. The curse she’d placed on Parker had landed squarely on her own shoulders as well. While she walked in the form of a woman, Terri’s skin had a sickly greenish cast from the mold that covered her in blotchy patches. Her hair was the dry, pale brown of dead leaves. Her eyes glowed brightly enough for others to

see by. Weeds sprouted from random spots on her body—a dandelion blooming above her navel. Naked, it was obvious that crabgrass had

replaced the hair of her mound. She smelled of rancid vegetation, like a

compost heap that had sat too long in the sun. An aura of evil—an unseen miasma like a shimmer of heat off desert sand—hung over her as she moved through the Throne to confront Parker and Amara.

An aura that hadn’t been there the last time they’d fought in the Throne.

She needed to tell Selena, to warn the witch doctor. Something was desperately wrong—

Mina screamed as agony rocked through her, her thoughts scattering like leaves on the wind.

Oh, gods above. Where were Ash and Greer? If they had been here, none of this would have happened.

But her protectors had been hunting the witch with Dragos, Amara and Parker. Too bad none of them had thought to look closer to home. Mina was now paying the price for their inattention. Terri had been hiding, like a

spider luring its prey, waiting for Mina to be alone. For Ash and his silver blade to be elsewhere, distracted by the vicious attack on Amara and Parker. For Greer’s sharp senses to be distracted, unable to sense the danger in the Throne.

They’d all thought Terri was near the pair, considering her obsessive need to lay claim to Parker. Mina had fallen slightly behind the others, something, some tingling awareness that she was in danger, slowing her flight through the forest.

Terri had taken her, thrust one of those damned spikes into her, used her own power against her. The witch had entered the Throne neat as you please, literally attached at the hip to Mina. The Throne, sensing Mina’s power coursing through Terri, had let her in. Mina had been in so much agony she hadn’t put up much of a fight.

Now they were all going to pay the price for Mina’s inability to sense Terri’s presence. She’d never know how the witch had hidden within the

seat of Mina’s power, but the mistake had been costly. She hung spread- eagle from the branches of her oak, her head down, her limbs trembling with the effort to break free. Her feet brushed the top of the carved-stone throne that sat high on its roots. Lesser thrones sat before the Oaken Throne, one each for Greer, Ash and Iva.

Where the fuck was Iva? If she had been here, Mina wouldn’t be

crucified. Terri would have been found and dealt with long before. But Iva was missing, and Mina was beginning to fear the worst.

“Hello, sweet.” Parker’s British accent was thicker, his voice mellow, nonthreatening. Mina bet he could charm the birds from the trees if he wished. “Where’s Mina?”

Terri paused. “Mina?”

“Oak, Terri. Where’s Oak?”

Terri shrugged. “Her? Where she belongs, of course. In her tree.”

Mina bit back a groan as one of Terri’s vines writhed against her skin. It burrowed under Mina’s skin, twisting inside her like a giant parasite, and for a brief moment she wished with all her might that Dragos was there. If the mayor had been present when Terri did this to her, Terri would already be dead.

Where was he? He should have been with Parker and Amara, but they’d come alone. Mina could feel the echoes of a battle being fought not far away, but the sensation was dulled, filtered through the pain and the witch who held her captive. Blood trickled down her skin where the vines and thorns kept her pinned to her tree like a bug.

Mina coughed and felt blood dot her lips. “’Bout time you got here, Amara.” Her voice was husky with fatigue and pain, but it took everything in her just to say the words.

Mina was dying, and unless they freed her soon they’d be looking for a new queen. The Oak mourned, its branches twisting in an unseen breeze, unable to free itself from the clinging vines that held them both fast.

“We were delayed.” Amara stepped into Mina’s line of sight. The hamadryad was frightening in her protective form, well over eight feet tall and covered in nearly impenetrable bark. She was tough, stronger even than a vampire, faster than a werewolf, and she had the entire forest at her beck and call. “Hey, bitch. Did you know that’s my man you’re messing


“He’s mine!” Terri shrieked. Weeds sprung up around Amara, trying to block her in, and there was nothing Mina could do to stop it. “I will kill


“And my dog too?” Amara pushed at the weeds, appearing startled when they didn’t give.

Parker snorted. Apparently he was no longer under the witch’s control. “Really, Terri. Bad form. Let the women go, and we’ll have a nice chat, hmm?”

“Come here, Parker.” Terri wiggled her fingers, her stench invading the grove with a poisonous perfume that dulled the senses.

“I don’t think so.” Parker took a step back, toward Amara.

Mina screamed as the weeds began writhing inside her, blinding her to everything else. It seemed like an eternity passed before the weeds ceased their movements. Mina’s screaming dissolved into sobs, her tree shivering as they shared their pain. Terri’s pull on the oak’s power, her attempt to

corrupt the Throne, was causing the great oak to experience an agony it had never before experienced, and Mina shared in that horror.

Gods, where the hell was Dragos? The need for him nearly crippled her.

She wanted him to make it stop.

“Do you want them to suffer even more? Feed from me, Parker. Feed from me, and the others may go free.”

Don’t do it, Parker. She mouthed the words, unable to say them. Not for me. Not for anyone.

“Even Amara?”

No! If Parker drank from Terri, there would be no stopping them. They’d take over the whole forest, Maggie’s Grove, and it wouldn’t stop there. Mina had to get free, had to—

“Even Amara. She won’t matter to you once the spell is complete. Our

suffering will be over, Parker. We will be together forever.” The raw joy in Terri’s voice nearly made Mina vomit.

“And Mina will be set down, unharmed?”

“I can’t promise she won’t be damaged. My friends can be enthusiastic when I give them a task.”

Mina watched—her vision bleary with misery—as Amara rooted her feet into the earth, drew back her hand and slammed it into the weed with all her strength.

The weed bent, and Mina took a deep, shuddering breath. If Amara got free, she would save Mina.

Parker leaned back, probably trying not to breathe in Terri’s overwhelming stench. “And what task did you give them?”

She heard the faintest cracking sound. Amara was breaking free, and Mina barely managed to contain her joy. Connected as she was to Terri, the witch might sense her hope and prevent Amara from coming for her.

“I needed the forest pliant. This was the fastest way.” Mina closed her eyes, unable to watch as Terri ran her hands down Parker’s chest. There was not enough hand sanitizer in the world to get that off you. “I have to admit, I’m enjoying the taste of power. It’s so deep and rich and dark. The things I could do with it are endless.”

Damn it. Mina could feel Terri in the back of her mind, tapping into her power. If she held too long, Terri would poison the forest, but if she died...

If Mina died, the forest would be free. A new oak would arise eventually, taking Mina’s throne and her power.

“I don’t think so. You didn’t think I’d give up that easily, did you?” Mina opened her eyes to find Terri practically nose to nose with a still-

imprisoned Amara.

“Hello. You must be Terri.”

What remained of Terri’s eyebrows crookedly rose. “And you are?” “Let me think. You’re the bat-shit crazy bad guy.” Amara’s smile turned

evil. “Guess that makes me the hero.”

Up from the earth sprang a huge rocklike formation that batted down the weeds like bugs and knocked both Terri and Amara off their feet. It also

shoved the weeds deeper into Mina’s sides. She couldn’t even muster a scream.

Terri jumped to her feet. “How?”

Amara rose and punched the woman right in the nose, sending her sailing across the Throne. “It’s good to have friends.”

Terri howled, and her weeds answered, lifting from the ground and

writhing around, but the ground rebelled against the invader. It heaved and moved in a quake that would have destroyed a lesser place.

The mountain did not like having Terri there and was showing her in the best way it could, with a little help from Rock. The huge park ranger strode into view, batting weeds aside with massive fists. He’d called on the powers

of his element, armoring himself against the thorns that tried to rip into his flesh. The deep, grating sound of stone grinding against stone accompanied him as he stomped across the Throne, decimating everything in his path.

Almost half the wolf pack fought at his side, their claws and teeth ripping and tearing with deadly accuracy, their alpha at the front of the battle.

Rock and the wolves entered the fray, and all hell broke loose. Terri’s hold on Mina loosened, but there was little Mina could do except silently cry for help.

With all her being, boosted by the power of her oak, she called for Dragos.

She wanted Dragos. Where was he? Why hadn’t he come for her, saved her?

Her consciousness was fading fast, lost in the pain and the battle at the very heart of the forest...

* * *

Mina woke with a scream, barely hanging on to her sanity.

They’d come, the powers that be in Maggie’s Grove, and they’d saved her from Terri—healing her physical wounds and as much of her spirit as they could. But nothing could change the fact that Dragos had come too late, had barely been there.

He hadn’t saved her, and Mina was having a hard time letting that go.

Oh, he’d seen to it that she healed, at least physically. He’d hovered over her, fed her and pampered her, but he’d bowed to her hysterical demand that she be returned to the Throne. She’d ignored his arguments, his attempts to persuade her, even the bribes he offered her. The only thing that she wanted was her tree, and for the nightmares to end.

If anything, they were worse now that she’d left Dragos, but she couldn’t bring herself to admit it to anyone but the other ruling dryads.

“This is getting really old.” Greer Berkley was leaning against his tree, sweat dripping down his brow and darkening his pale blond hair. The orange streaks looked like fire. The singer had an unusually serious

expression was on his face, the strain of trying to heal Mina’s psychic

wounds showing in his creased brow and pale lips. Usually he had a smile for everyone and a carefree laugh that lightened every mood.

She expected that kind of expression from—

“And it isn’t the end.” Ashton Ward, the other male of her court, was also leaning wearily against his tree. The emerald green of his eyes had dulled to

olive, his bright green hair mussed, as if he’d been running his fingers through it repeatedly.

Only Iva was absent, her yew growing weaker by the day. His sword, the symbol of his guardianship of the forest, appeared in his hand. He still felt guilty about what had happened to her, as if he was personally responsible for Terri getting her hands on Mina. Unfortunately, as his position was that of the forest’s protector and defender, he was right. Nothing Mina could say would take that guilt away from him. “There’s something more at work here, something I can almost taste.”

Greer straightened slowly. When Ash called his weapon, the heart of the forest was in danger. “Ash?”

Ash shook his head, but he was glancing around, alert, ready for danger. “C’mon, man. Give me more than that.”

Ash stared at Mina and sighed. “We need Selena.”

Greer snorted. “You need Selena. The rest of us need to stop hearing about how much you need Selena.”

Ash rolled his eyes. The tension between the two men was growing. Both were in love with women who were resisting their advances, and Mina feared they would go to drastic measures to get the women to acknowledge them. “I meant, there’s more going on here than Mina’s inability to heal.”

Mina stood and stretched. Her tree shivered behind her, both letting go of the remnants of the dream. “I should be over this by now.”

“You were viciously tortured. I don’t think a latte and a smile are going to ‘get you over it.’”

“The others are becoming restless. They want to come to you, see that

you’re well.” Ash was staring into the forest, his expression grim. “We won’t be able to hold them back indefinitely.”

Greer grinned. “We told them they’d be allowed back into the Throne only when you said it was safe.”

Mina winced. She wasn’t surprised that the town’s dryads were becoming

agitated. She’d ordered them to stay away, used her power over them to keep them from coming to her. She’d had Greer and Ash tell them that she wasn’t certain Terri’s taint was completely gone, and until she was certain her people were safe, they were to stay away.

In other words, she’d lied her ass off, but at least her people didn’t have

to see her so weak and helpless. Better that they thought she was fighting

the remnants of Terri than that she’d developed a horrendous case of agoraphobia. “Thank you for running interference for me.”

Ash smiled wearily. “That’s a given. You’re not just our Queen. You’re our sister.”

Greer examined his nails. “Speaking as a brother, you could let Dragos in. Maybe he could help.”

Oh, hell to the no. No way was she letting Dragos know she was so vulnerable, especially in the Throne. It was bad enough Amara was keeping him apprised of her progress. If she had to deal with him one-on-one,


Okay, she didn’t know what she’d do. But for now, she needed to stay far away from Dragos.

She had to be strong enough to save herself.

Dragos opened the door of his mansion, weary to the bone. He was so ready to retire for the day it wasn’t even funny. Parker had managed to relieve

some of the doom and gloom he’d been experiencing, but once the younger vampire had returned to his home the depression had returned full force.

How was he going to get through to Mina?

“Good evening, master.”

He shook his head as his young Renfield, Edward Warren, did his best Igor impression. Dragos smiled, but his heart wasn’t in it. “That was terrible, Eddy.”

“I try, master.”

“Smart-ass. Your father was a great deal more respectful.” Eddy’s father, Aaron, had retired, leaving his only son to become Dragos’s Renfield. The boy had been practically isolated on Dragos’s estate ever since he’d been born. His unique gift had caused the boy untold problems when they tried putting him in public schools. Eddy had remained safe and secure in the mansion, under the watchful eyes of Aaron and Dragos, learning how to become a Renfield along with his normal lessons.

No one could be as proud of Eddy as Dragos was, not even Aaron. Eddy had taken to being a Renfield, his Renfield, like a duck to water. As he’d gotten older and learned to control his abilities he’d made some friends, good ones.

Dragos found he enjoyed having the group of teens messing up his mansion and blasting music all over the house.

He’d missed the laughter of children over the years. Eddy had brought that back.

“And boring. Don’t forget boring.” Eddy straightened up, his brown eyes twinkling, his hair flopping in his face. He looked like a juvenile delinquent, but was probably one of the smartest people Dragos had ever met. “Did I mention he called while you were asleep? He says, and I quote, Hawaii rocks.”

“More like you paraphrase.” Dragos sauntered into his office and settled behind his desk. “Correspondence?”

“In the mail.”

Dragos eyed the brat.

“So are the bills, and may I say it impresses me every single time I have to write out the electric bill. You are one seriously rich Methuselah.”

Methuselah? Oh, that stung. “And you are one bite away from no longer being a Renfield.”

“No way, no day. I ain’t ready to be coffin bait, thanks.” Eddy held the back of his hand to his forehead. “I’m far too pretty to die.”

Dragos cocked an eyebrow at the brat. “Besides, only the good die young.”

Eddy stuck his tongue out, and Dragos laughed. If it wasn’t for his

Renfield, Dragos would have sunk into despair. But Eddy’s laid-back attitude and fearlessness in the face of his anger had kept Dragos from

giving in on more than one occasion. It helped that Eddy had grown up

around him, was familiar with the way Dragos acted. And Dragos’s beast recognized Eddy as its own, and protected him as if he were Dragos’s child.

Dragos was seriously contemplating changing him. He would be one of the few Dragos had changed, and none of his children currently lived in

Maggie’s Grove. One had died in the Civil War. Another had taken up with a Spanish vampire and currently lived in Madrid, happy as a lark. She still sent him Christmas and birthday cards. The third...

Well. The third had chosen politics, and was currently in Europe, acting as the American vampiric ambassador to the European Council of Supernaturals, the ruling body whose laws and enforcement arm kept their nature hidden from the human world. Dragos was so proud of his son it

wasn’t even funny.

If, and it was a big if, Eddy accepted the Kiss he would be a delight in the centuries to come. But that was something to discuss for the future. Eddy

was still so young, barely twenty-one years old, and still had so much life ahead of him.

Dragos would make the boy his son in truth rather than just in his heart the moment Eddy said he wished for it. But Eddy had to want it, and

Dragos refused to pressure him.

“By the way, you got one really weird piece of mail I think you should look at.”

“Oh?” Dragos often got “weird mail,” mostly from other vampires or older supernatural creatures who refused to use email. “Where did you leave it?”

Eddy pointed toward a silver tray on his desk. “Fair warning. It reeks.”

Dragos’s brows rose. Eddy was psychic, like a number of people who

chose to become Renfields. His ability was psychometry, a fairly common and extremely useful ability in someone who guarded a vampire. With a

simple touch he could read emotions, intent, and sometimes the past or the present off of objects or people. The stronger the emotion or the greater the danger, the more uncomfortable Eddy became. Worse, Eddy could

sometimes feel extremely strong emotions, especially negative ones,

saturating an object or person without ever touching them. If he’d refused to touch the letter, using the silver tray to hold it, it had to be bad. “I’ll take a look once you’re safely away.”

Eddy rolled his eyes. “Jeez. You pass out once, and suddenly you’re Weenie of the Year.”

“Yes, but you’re my weenie, and I expect you to stick around.” Eddy grinned shyly. “You got it, boss.”

It was times like these Dragos remembered exactly how young Eddy was. He’d offered to send him to college, but Eddy had refused. Being a Renfield in Maggie’s Grove was an honorable profession, one Eddy had been proud to be accepted into.

Those who took up the mantel of day guardians were trained in how to

take care of the town’s vampires, including their sotiei. And on those occasions when the beast reigned supreme, they were taught how to deal with their vampires when they’d gone too far to control themselves. Eddy had wanted to be a Renfield since he was a small boy, and when his father retired he’d stepped into the position with ease. He’d been a surprisingly good Renfield for a year now.

“Go.” Dragos waved toward the office door, determined that Eddy would suffer no ill effects from the letter. “You’ll know if the missive attempts to eat me.”

“Don’t joke about that.” Eddy turned on his heel and walked toward the

door. “Remember that one witch?”

Dragos shuddered. “Don’t remind me. The paper cuts were in some

really uncomfortable places.”

Eddy laughed, closing the door behind him.

Dragos reached for the envelope, aware that whatever had bothered Eddy wouldn’t be able to harm Dragos unless it was a spell, in which case Dragos would rather deal with the consequences without the psychic Renfield in the room. There wasn’t much Eddy could do against true magic. To a spell, he was just another frail human. Dragos would do much better on his own,

where he didn’t have to worry about the boy.

There would be no need for precautions, just a separation between Eddy and the envelope.

He slit it open, prepared for anything. Or so he thought. When he saw the familiar signature he nearly leapt from his chair.

After all this time, why would they contact him now? They had been the ones to cast him out, to send him out into the world with nothing but the

clothes on his back and a few coins he’d managed to pick from his jailor’s

pockets. He had thought never to hear from them again. So why now, after all these centuries, had they chosen to contact him?

Fearful of his hunger, they’d driven him out, and unknowingly let the real monster win.

He picked up the missive carefully, as if it were a viper about to bite him,

and scanned the contents. He let loose a rumbling growl as the tone registered.

As always, his father was arrogant to the point of rudeness, but that

wasn’t entirely his fault. His father was older than most supernaturals, and the older they were the more likely they were to be aristocrats like Dragos’s father. The poorer European supernaturals did not fare well until after the founding of the New World colonies, and even then they had to contend

with the natives, who took the colonization poorly.

Dragos had seen what was happening soon after emigrating, and had done the only thing he could think of to ease the tensions: created neutral ground. All supernaturals, regardless of origin, were welcome in Maggie’s

Grove—even the darker elements of their society, so long as they obeyed the laws within the Grove. And it had worked, for the most part. On occasion Dragos had been forced to discipline a resident, and on fewer occasions he’d eliminated them. The residents began policing themselves, and soon Dragos was the ruler of their little town rather than the enforcer.

He much preferred it that way.

But now, after no contact from his father, the man was writing to him, demanding he allow one of his brothers onto his territory. The missive did not state why his brother’s presence was necessary. It merely ordered him to obey. Hell, the missive didn’t even say which brother would be sent his


“Fuck them.” Dragos lit the letter on fire and watched it burn. His whole family could rot in hell as far as he was concerned. They’d thrown him

away long ago, exiled him from his clutch and his home, and he’d stayed gone. He wanted nothing to do with his former clutch or the family that threw him away for being different. As far as he was concerned Vasile and Trajan could rot in the old country along with their father, Prince Laurentiu.

He picked up the next sheet on his desk and groaned. It was about

Monster Movie Night, a monthly get-together of all the supernaturals who were available at the time. He shook his head at the winner of this month’s vote for the town’s movie.

“Frankenhooker? This has got to be Eddy’s idea.” “Nope! Parker’s!” Eddy shouted through the door.

Dragos growled, and Eddy’s laughter filled the room. “And I am to assume you had nothing to do with it?”

Eddy opened the door, stuck his head in the room, winked at Dragos, and

closed the door again.

Dragos laid his head on his desk, trying desperately not to laugh. “I have got to keep those two away from one another.”

“Good luck with that!”

Dragos gave in to the laughter, and damn, it felt good.