Paranormal Reverse #WhyChoose Romance, vampires, House Haides, Their Vampire Queen, Kora Haides
Welcome to Kora’s story, Queen Takes Death! The first part of her story, Queen Takes Death: Prelude, is available exclusively in Bloodlust, A Charity Anthology. This will be a limited edition anthology, and once rights return to me, I’ll be releasing a full trilogy.
Keep reading for a sneak peek of the first chapter following Bloodlust’s short story. I post regular excepts from all works in progress on Patreon if you’d like to read along as I write.
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“Wake up. We’ve got to go.”
I hear my friend’s voice but I can’t move or acknowledge her yet. I’m too deeply asleep, slowing rising toward the surface from the depths of a bottomless sea. Sunlight barely flickers through the murk, showing me the way up. Though it takes every survival instinct I possess to keep swimming rather than let the darkness pull me back down.
She touches my shoulder, light and quick, but I jerk straight up on a harsh gasp of alarm. My heart thunders and my hands tremble with adrenaline.
“Sorry,” she whispers, looking back over her shoulder. “He’s coming.”
I haven’t known Grier for long. At least I don’t think so—I have a hard time keeping track of time. Short, choppy lime-green hair swings around her head, and she has a silver ring in her nose and many studs in both of her earlobes. She keeps her movements small and quick, slipping through the bewildering streets with easy savvy. Luckily for me, she’s taken me under her wing.
Breathing deeply to calm myself, I swing my legs over the edge of the cot and slip my feet into the waiting boots. They’re too big for me so I’m wearing two pairs of thick socks. The sole is pulling away and my feet get wet if I’m not careful, but I’m grateful that Grier was able to find them for me.
“Hey, what’s this?”
She lifts a shard of black glass off the cot. Shivering, I close my eyes a moment. The dream. No wonder I had a hard time waking up. My stomach churns but I try to shrug off her question. “I must have picked it up somewhere.”
She wouldn’t believe the truth. Hell, I didn’t believe, even though I had the cuts and scars to prove it.
“You were sleeping on it. Oh, honey, you’re bleeding. It cut you.”
A cut stings in my lower back on the right side. I slip my fingers beneath the shirt to check how bad it is. My skin’s sticky with blood, thin cotton clinging to my back. It’s a couple of inches long. Not as bad as some of the others. “It’s just a scratch. It’ll stop bleeding in a few minutes.”
The door slams open so hard that it thumps and rebounds against the wall. A man strolls in like he’s some kind of king. I suppose he is in a way since according to Grier, he runs this shelter. An older man with a receding hairline hidden by a ball cap, he’s evidently very proud of his upper body physique and wears a tight tank to reveal his muscles. His skin is covered in tattoos, even the backs of his hands and his cheeks. I don’t know if they mean anything.
“Sorry,” Grier whispers beneath her breath. “I saw him headed this way.”
She told me his name. I’m sure of it. But I can’t recall what it is now. Even without her whispered warning to never be alone with him, everything about this man repels me.
“Good morning, girls,” he drawls with a smile. “I hope the men behaved themselves last night.”
“No problems, Mr. Taras.” Grier flashes a sassy grin and tucks a strand of hair behind her ear, trying to keep his focus on her. “Thanks again for letting us in last night.”
“Sure thing. Should I save two beds in the women’s room for you tonight?”
My jaw tightens and I want to blurt out “no.” But where else can we go? The streets are way too risky, even for two women together. That’s how I found her in the first place. She was fighting off two men. One was rifling through her backpack and the other had her pinned against the wall. His hand was between her legs. When her wild, desperate gaze met mine…
I’m still not sure exactly what I did but he was bleeding from his ears as he limped after his friend.
Was that yesterday? The day before? Longer? I have no idea.
“We’ll see,” Grier replies. “Depends on how much we make today.”
The man—Taras, I make a mental note, trying to etch his name like a warning in my skull—shakes his head. He gives me an ingratiating smile that sets my teeth on edge. “Now girls, I’ve told you before that you don’t need to worry about that. Not one bit. I want this to be your safe place.”
“There is no safe place,” I say flatly. “Not on this side of Death.”
They both stare at me oddly. I’m not sure where the words came from. Probably the dream. Fragments linger behind my eyes like a migraine. Flashes only, bits and pieces that are distorted and broken apart. An altar. I remember that much. Him. Not what he looks like, but the way he touched me. Boldly. Confidently. Without an ounce of hesitation.
I hadn’t flinched away or screamed in pain once. No, when I screamed…
Pleasure rolled from me in waves of light and energy. Enough to bring a dead land back to life. Which tells me more than anything exactly how fantastical and crazy the dream must have been.
Shaking his head, Taras laughs. “You say the darnedest things, Beauty. Let’s hope you’re a very long ways from death.”
I’ve avoided telling him my name but it’d almost be worth it to keep him from calling me Beauty. Licking his lips, he stares at me, and I shudder with revulsion. He’s kept his hands to himself so far, but I can’t shake the fear that he’ll sneak up on me when my guard’s down. What if he crept in while I was sleeping so deeply?
I don’t think I’d be able to keep myself from hurting him. Like I did that man who was touching Grier. Only I’m pretty sure Taras will be bleeding from more than his ears if he dares lay a finger on me.
“Gotta get down to the office and see if we can find any work.” She moves toward the door, and I immediately follow her, walking faster the closer we get to escape. “Thanks again.”
“See you tonight, girls,” Taras calls after us. “I’m saving a bed just for you, Beauty.”
We hit the door almost running. The sun blares with intensity, blinding me in an instant. I have to grope for Grier, grabbing a handful of her jacket so she can lead me down the sidewalk. My eyes stream with tears, even with my other hand shading the morning sunlight. I can’t see much at all through blurry, pained vision but I’d rather stumble along behind her than linger and hope he doesn’t follow us.
Finally we round a corner and lean against a brick wall, shielded from the glaring sun. Blinking to clear away the tears, I wipe my face on the tail of my shirt. “Do we have to go back tonight?”
Grier squats and rummages through her backpack. “He runs a good operation. You saw how many people were waiting already for a spot tonight.”
I didn’t notice. I’d been too busy trying to stay on my feet as we rushed down the uneven, broken sidewalk. “He gives me the creeps.”
“Me too.” She hands me a battered pair of sunglasses we found in the park. A bit scratched but usable. “We need to get you your own bag in case we get separated.”
My heart beat quickens at the thought of being alone. Lost. Wandering. I’m so fucking confused. Nothing makes sense here. I can’t seem to remember anything. Where I’m from. Where I need to go. The name of this fucking city. I’m sure she told me at least a hundred times but it just won’t stick in my head.
I’m fucking broken, and if she leaves me behind…
I can’t seem to catch my breath.
“Okay, okay, shhh. Bend over. Put your hands on your knees. Yeah. Just breathe, honey. It’s okay. I’m not going anywhere.”
“I’m sorry,” I pant out. “I don’t want to be a burden.”
“Never think such a thing. You saved me, remember? We’re thick as thieves now, just you and me. Even if something happens and we’re separated, just head to the river, yeah? I’ll find you down there. Do you think you can do that?”
Breathing a little easier, I lean back against the wall, waiting for the trembling to stop. “Maybe.” Probably not. “Which way is it again?”
Shaking her head, she laughs and hands me half of a granola bar. “You’re hopeless with directions.”
“I’m hopeless with everything,” I mutter. Gathering my resolve, I nibble the edge of the bar. It’s dry and tastes like cardboard but she seems to like it. “What’s the name of this city again?”
She sits cross legged with the backpack between her thighs. “Mariupol.” Then she says two more words, though each time it sounds completely different. I assume she’s saying the city in different languages. Head tipped, she watches my reaction. “Ring any bells?”
Whatever language we’re speaking in, I understand at least on a basic level. Other words, like place names, might as well be an animal call. I shake my head. “Nope.”
“What day is it?”
I sigh again. “You know that I have no idea.”
“Yesterday was Monday. Does that help?”
“No. Which way’s the river?”
She points back toward the way we came. “That way. If you keep going in that direction, you’ll hit the Black Sea, though you’ll have to cross the river first.”
“Maybe the sea is important. I was dreaming about water when you woke me up.”
“Tell me about it,” she says in between bites. “Maybe there’s clues in your dream.” My cheeks heat and she cackles, her eyes sparking with amusement. “Aha! You were dreaming about someone, right? A man? Who was it? Not Taras.”
I grimace, quickly shaking my head. “Fuck no. He… wasn’t human. It was a weird dream. There was a glass tunnel that started to fall apart. He was there and he pulled me toward him. It only took a few seconds but it felt like he was pulling me across thousands of years. Then I died in his arms.”
“Shit. I’m sorry, that’s horrible. How did you get into the water?”
I rub my temples, trying to remember. “I don’t know.”
“Are you sure about your name?”
I close my eyes and silently whisper Kora in my head. It resonates through me, echoing and reverberating like I’m shouting from the top of a mountain. “Yeah.”
“Do you know your surname?”
“I’m not even sure what that means.” She offers a plastic bottle of water but I shake my head. “If I’m going to drink something, I’d rather it be…” My words fall off into horrified silence.
I almost told her I’d rather drink blood. Not hers though.
I don’t know what’s wrong with me but that can’t be normal.
“Coffee?” She suggests, pushing up to her feet. “We can grab some on the way to the agency.”
“Yeah,” I whisper. “That’d be great.”
Even though I have no idea what the fuck coffee is.