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Jessica McClain is on the run. . . again.
Finally reunited with Rourke, Jessica arrives home to find that her best friend has been kidnapped, her father has vanished, and the supernatural Sects — witches, demons, and sorcerers — don’t even have the courtesy to wait until she is unpacked to attack.
Now, mastering her powers as the sole female werewolf might not be enough to save them. Thrown together in a shaky truce with the Vampire Queen, Jessica must show all the different Sects what the true meaning of “the enemy of my enemy” is or her father will die. . .
Table of Contents
A Preview of Charming
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"Get down!" Tallulah Talbot, the most powerful witch in the country, grabbed on to my arm and hurled us both into the bushes. Seconds later an explosion hit with the force of a meteor. I shielded my face and body as rocks peppered down around us. Once it stopped, I rolled over and opened my eyes, coughing and spitting out dirt as I rose to my knees.
I squinted through the brush. "Do you see what I'm seeing?" I pointed to a crater the size of a city bus in the middle of my office parking lot. The noise had rocked my eardrums, but other than that I was fine. I stood, dusting off my clothes. Tally was already up next to me. "What kind of an explosion was that?"
It had come out of the blue.
Before she could respond, Rourke was in front of me. He had several holes in his shirt, but the small wounds had already closed. He hauled me out of the bushes, his big hands encircling my waist. "Jessica, are you all right?" His gave me a long once-over.
"I'm fine." I placed a palm on his warm chest. Touching him calmed me and I needed it. After the ordeal we'd just gone through battling Selene, I was still on edge. The Lunar Goddess had put up quite a fight, but in the end I had managed to defeat her immortality long enough to send her to the Underworld. The low growl in Rourke's chest made my fingers tremble. He was as agitated as I was. Five minutes without someone trying to kill me would've gone an extremely long way.
"That wasn't a normal bomb." Rourke turned toward the parking lot. "Look at the damage. That hole has to be fifteen feet deep and just as wide."
"It was a Mask Orb." Tally emerged out of the brush behind us, readjusting her skullcap. She was dressed in all black, her white hair neatly tucked away, and at five feet tall with zero chest, she channeled a twelve-year-old boy, not an all-powerful spell caster. "It searches out a target and explodes once it finds its mark. It's an old sorcerer standby. Those guys only have a few tricks up their sleeves, so they tend to use them tirelessly." She smirked. "The Mask Orbs are impossible to detect until two seconds before they detonate, when they give off a tiny pfft of air. It's a flaw in their spell. You just became the luckiest people alive, because I have a built-in detector on me at all times." She patted her backside.
Tyler ran up, followed by Danny and Nick. They were all in one piece. Thank goodness supernaturals had preternatural speed, because most supes couldn't regenerate from the damage of an explosion.
When Tally had yelled, everyone had moved.
"We need to get out of here," Tyler said as he started to herd us forward. "The Humvee is armored. We can take it back to the Safe House and figure out our next move. I'm not waiting for another one of those things to explode."
"If there was another one, it would've gone off already," Tally said. "A Mask Orb is left as a calling card. It was meant to go off right when you arrived." She nodded toward me, because we all knew it had my name all over it. "But the chunderheads must have activated it by the front entrance, so it took time to find you. Which, considering everything, was a very lucky break." She bent over and dusted debris off her jeans. "But now that it's been detonated, they know you're here, so lingering isn't advisable."
I glanced around at the group. We were all assembled behind my office building. We'd just learned that James Graham, my father's second-in-command, whom we'd thought had gone rogue, had taken off after Marcy Talbot, my secretary and Tally's niece. According to Tally, Marcy had been recently abducted by sorcerers, the ones behind the new gaping crater in my parking lot. There was no reason to argue with Tally's logic about who was behind the kidnapping. She clearly knew what she was talking about, especially if she had a Mask Orb detector embedded in her ass.
"Well, we're certainly not sticking around to see if they show up," Tyler said. "So like I said, let's get out of here."
"Agreed," Nick added. "It's best if we leave quickly."
There were no arguments. We started moving toward our vehicle, passing by the huge hole as we went. It was a very specific area of damage, and other than things being pelted by falling debris, nothing else was touched. Cars were still parked in their spaces, riding on the edge of the crater. Humans were going to scratch their heads when they saw this. I'd never had a run-in with any sorcerers, so I wasn't sure how they operated, but it appeared to be along the lines of blow something up and ask questions later.
We walked toward the yellow Humvee, which illuminated the night like an awful phosphorus specter. It hadn't been damaged by the blast at all, which was a total shame. Dents and bruises could only improve it. "Once we arrive at the Safe House, we can lay out a plan to get Marcy back," I said as I turned to make my way around the vehicle. But before I could take a step, Tally snatched me by the shoulder, yanking me backward.
I stumbled but recovered quickly.
"You and I are not going to your Safe House."
She was incredibly strong for five feet of skinny witch.
Rourke, Danny, and Tyler all moved forward to intercede.
"Stop." I held up my hand, keeping my eyes pinned on Tally. "I refuse to handle this with violence." I was tired. We'd driven all night. I'd just been in an epic battle with a deranged Goddess, followed by an encounter with a Demon Lord, who had informed me I had a court date in the Underworld to face crimes I'd inadvertently committed. Fighting with the witches would be counterproductive to both my health and to our case, which was to get Marcy back unharmed.
She was my best friend and I was willing to do whatever it took, including keeping the peace with an angry witch.
Rourke eased up reluctantly, sensing my mood. He was a strong alpha, and I knew it was going to be tough for him to follow my lead, especially after so many years on his own. But for now, his willingness to try was appreciated. My wolf barked her approval in my mind. Tyler and Danny were still poised and ready to spring, their blood and anxiety jumping in my veins as we all glared at each other. Danny had recently sworn a pledge to me, making me his Alpha, and his duty to protect me at all costs blinded him to good judgment, especially in this high-stress environment. I tried to send out a calming vibe, but I had no idea how to do anything remotely Alpha-like or if it would even work.
Tally stood completely unfazed by our show of aggression.
Instead, her stony gaze bored a hole straight into my soul. She crossed her arms, waiting. "Three minutes ago we all could've been blown to smithereens." I obliged her by continuing, trying to defuse the situation. "As far as I can tell, we all want the same goal. We want Marcy back. So let's start acting like we're on the same side." Tally's power pecked at my skin. My wolf growled and clacked her jaws, resenting the feel of it as it pressed against us. I turned and gave Tally my full attention. "How would you like this to run? You have our cooperation." I didn't need to specify "up to a point" because that went without saying.
Supernaturals tolerated each other for brief interludes when it was mutually beneficial. Tally blamed me for Marcy's disappearance and I owned that. I should've been more diligent. I couldn't keep running around pretending the Prophecy wasn't real and the supernatural race wasn't going to notice me. My negligence had put people I loved in danger and I owed it to Marcy to cooperate with her aunt.
"I don't care where they go"—Tally flicked her head toward the group—"but you're coming with me. We head back to my Coven and gather information, including from the wolf who you say is tracking her. Regardless of what we find, we move in two hours. I'm not leaving my niece in the hands of the Baldies any longer than necessary."
Nick stepped forward, composed as always. "Ms. Talbot, I'm sure there's a way we can find neutral ground—somewhere we can all gather that's not within your direct boundary or ours." I could always count on Nick to stay levelheaded. Tally's home base would be a giant disadvantage if we had a disagreement about how things should run. I smiled at Nick to show my appreciation. I'd missed his brown curls, golden eyes, and sweet smile. There wasn't a nicer guy on earth.
Tally shook her head. "It's too dangerous. The sorcerers will pick up our trail as soon as they arrive. Our signatures are all over this parking lot. We can't linger at any unwarded location or we'll be vulnerable to attack, and I don't have time to put up the necessary spells to keep us safe somewhere else. We head to my Coven, where I have full protection in place. No compromises."
Rourke took a single step forward. "You guarantee our safety first, or nobody goes with you, witch."
"Of course," Tally snipped. "What do you think I'm going to do—harvest your body parts for my bubbling cauldron? You'll be safe as long as the priority remains to get my niece back."
Tally had a point.
Because the sorcerers knew we'd arrived, protection was the most logical option. But the best thing for my team would be to keep some people on the outside in case things went wrong in the Coven. "Fine, the three of us will go with you." I motioned between Rourke, Nick, and me. "Tyler and Danny will head to the Safe House." I nodded to them both. "Find out anything you can on James's whereabouts. I want a phone call in less than two hours, whether you find something or not. Contact Dad," I told Tyler, "and let him know what's going on. After that, we rendezvous at an agreed-upon spot outside the Coven and head out."
"Jess—" Tyler started.
I cut him off in my mind.
Tyler, we don't have a choice. If I refuse to go with Tally, it'll bring more trouble than we need right now. And the priority is Marcy.
I don't like it. That witch could do a thousand things to you inside that house, not to mention she wanted to use you as ransom an hour ago.
Tally's original plan was to ransom me to the sorcerers, which was still a viable option if we couldn't track them. I'd trade myself for Marcy in a heartbeat, but not without a solid plan. Tyler didn't have to know that, and in order to move forward, we needed to pick Tally's brain about the sorcerers anyway. I hear you, but you're going to have to trust me on this. We'll take the necessary precautions, and I have an angry cat with me who's not about to let anything go wrong.
He grumbled but looked resigned.
"Give me the keys," I asked him out loud. Tyler reluctantly reached into his pocket and pulled them out. The Safe House was only a few miles away. They could make it on foot in a few minutes. Remember, we still have this. I tapped my finger to my temple, trying my best to reassure him. Then I glanced over at Rourke, who stood frowning at Tally.
She glared back, her arms still crossed.
"Before we leave, I want you to swear an oath, witch," Rourke said. "Or the deal is off. Covens are notorious for holding prisoners, and breaking layered wards by multiple witches is next to impossible."
"I swear not to hold you against your will," Tally stated evenly. "But I want a vow in return that you will do whatever we deem necessary to get my niece back, including a ransom if your wolf has failed to track her." She narrowed her eyes. "Without doing so, you risk a war with us."
Before Rourke could protest, I said, "I swear we will do everything we can to find your niece. Whatever it takes."
Tally nodded once, accepting me at my word.
"Keep your wits about you, then, Jessica," Danny quipped as he gently prodded an unhappy Tyler backward. "We'll plan on seeing you shortly." He winked as they took off into the night.
As they ran, their combined uncertainty jumped through my blood. Being an Alpha, even for this short time, wasn't an easy job. The responsibility for their well-being pressed down on me. We needed to find my father soon so he could take back their Troths and fix this.
I directed my attention to Tally. "I'll drive, because there's no way we're fitting in your car."
She didn't argue. Her silver two-door Camaro was still parked at a haphazard angle by the back door where she'd clearly spun it to a stop. The car had missed the mayhem of the Orb, but just barely. It had to have been warded against damage, because there wasn't a scratch on it.
I walked around to the driver's side of the Humvee with Nick following closely.
"I haven't had a chance to tell you," he said, reaching out to give me a quick hug, "but I'm incredibly glad to see you back so soon. It's been quiet around here with you gone. And as much as I knew you'd make it home, seeing you not dead, broken, or battered is the best gift I could've asked for."
"It's really good to see you too," I told him honestly, hugging him back. Nick had been my best—and only—friend growing up on the Compound, where physical strength had meant status, and we'd both had none. During our childhood we'd forged a solid, unbreakable bond and I was extremely happy to see him. "I'll fill you in on all the details as soon as I can, but Selene is going to be gone for a very long time, in a place where she can't touch us."
In the Underworld, specifically.
"I knew you'd beat her." Nick chuckled as he opened the back passenger door. "I never doubted you for a second." He cocked his head slightly as he got in. "Well, maybe I had a few errant thoughts, but they passed quickly enough."
I grinned as I climbed into the driver's seat. "The battle was intense and it wasn't very pretty." Rourke growled his agreement as he settled in next to Nick. Selene had eviscerated him, intent on doing the greatest possible damage to us both. Images started to invade my psyche and my wolf huffed. Time to change the scenery. "Nick, after we find Marcy, the next priority will be to prepare for New Orleans." We were due at the Vampire Queen's to provide guard duty services in three weeks and we couldn't go in unprepared. "I refuse to let Eudoxia gain the upper hand."
Tally slid into the front seat and slammed the door. She raised her eyebrow at me but stayed silent. Our business wasn't hers, and with a small nod, she acknowledged it.
The Vamp Queen's request for us to guard her was ridiculous at best, but I had sworn a binding oath, meaning that if I didn't deliver, bad things would happen. There was no doubt she had ulterior motives for wanting me on her home turf, so we had to prepare. I needed to know everything about vampires and how they worked. Having Naomi on my team was my ace in the hole, and between her and Nick, I hoped we could gather enough information to stay at least one step ahead.
I'd been a wolf for only a short time, but my on-the-job training had brought my skill level up exponentially in the last few weeks. I was fairly confident I could get Marcy back and survive my time with the Vamp Queen.
If not, life was about to become extremely interesting.
I turned the diesel engine over and the beast roared to life.
"By the way, where's Ray?" Nick asked, leaning forward. Raymond Hart, the detective who'd been the bane of my existence for a very long time, had accompanied us on the journey to find Rourke. As I'd fought Selene, he'd been brutally attacked by a vampire and, right this minute, I had no idea if he was dead or alive.
"Ray is in… transition," I said, settling on an ambiguous word. I glanced sideways at Tally. "It requires some explaining."
I'd left Ray in the capable hands of Naomi, our vamp guide, who through an unexpected blood exchange, had not only become bonded to me, but also had become my friend and ally. Ray's wounds may have been too severe for any kind of transformation, but I'd given her the okay to try. I'd felt I owed Ray that much. In my opinion he had the right to choose his own death. Eamon, Naomi's brother, had ravaged him cruelly and it had been an awful way to die.
Nick nodded once without question. He knew me well enough to catch on; whether he liked the idea or not was hard to tell. He sat back in his seat, his face pensive. Ray was a tough human being, not necessarily someone you'd choose to become a supe. It's true Ray was rough around the edges and cranky, but Nick hadn't witnessed what he'd been capable of on the journey, as I had. In the end Ray had defended me and there had been a grudging respect growing between us. I desperately hoped, as a supe, he would come around to seeing our side of things.
If not, it was going to be a tough road. But there was no going back now.
I pulled away from the curb. "Where to?"
Tally directed me around a chain of lakes inside the city. Halfway around Lake of the Isles, she pointed to a huge mansion perched on the tip of a peninsula. One I'd seen a thousand times. "Pull around back," she ordered. "The gate knows it's me."
I wasn't going to question the gate's prowess.
The long driveway disappeared as it wrapped behind the house. Once the vehicle crossed the boundary line from the street, a current of energy pulsed through my body. Strong wards were up, and if they hadn't liked us, they would've slapped us back, like a flyswatter eliminating a pesky problem.
Once we were through the main gate, the backyard opened up. I followed the driveway as it curved to the left. Tall shrubs ran around the perimeter of the yard. It was completely private from any curious onlookers. Up ahead was a huge garage with three stalls. Tally snapped her wrist at the windshield, and feathery lines, almost undetectable, shot out from her fingertips.
The third garage door on the right opened.
"Drive in there."
I maneuvered the beast into the stall with only inches to spare on either side. The moment I tugged it into park, the ground beneath us jerked and rattled and the vehicle began to sink. "I'm assuming we're on a lift." I angled my head at Tally, laying it on the headrest. "Either that or earthquakes have finally found the upper Midwest."
Nick tried to roll his window down, but it was locked into place. "It's an underground lair." There was a hint of awe in his voice and I knew he was refraining from making a Batman joke. We didn't have anything cool like this up in the north woods where I grew up. No need for underground lairs when you had a thousand acres separating you from the world.
"Of course the entrance is underground," Tally said. "This is a Coven, one of the largest in the country. We protect ourselves well."
The hydraulic lift squeaked as it came to a stop and the Humvee bounced on its gigantic tires as it settled.
The room was well lit and, unsurprisingly, held a dozen witches.
Shifters and witches were not friendly, but they weren't exactly enemies either. Tally had already indicated she'd known who my father was before she allowed her niece to work for me, so it was not out of the question to think these witches also knew who I was. It irritated me, because for the past seven years I'd been under the assumption I'd created the perfect cover. No one had seemed to lift an eyebrow or question me at all. I'd believed my alias had been foolproof. But I'd been mistaken.
The supernatural community had indeed been onto me, possibly from the beginning. I knew this for certain, because the day after I'd become the first female wolf on the planet, I'd been brutally attacked. The rogue attack had been planned, and if that wasn't enough, I'd found out my building super had been a supe himself. We were still trying to figure out who he was and who he'd worked for, but it had been no accident he'd been chosen for the job.
"We're not getting out to a roomful of hostiles," Rourke said, his voice low, broaching no arguments.
"Cool your jets." Tally opened her door. "They're harmless unless I tell them otherwise."
"I can taste their power from here," he said. "And it's far from harmless. They're primed and ready to go. Tell them to stand down or we don't move."
I glanced back at Rourke and raised a brow. I wasn't going to argue with him, but I wasn't detecting the same threat. I inhaled, pulling air lightly over my tongue. Their combined power prodded against my senses, but it didn't raise any internal alarms. Not like Selene or the Demon Lord had. My wolf hadn't even bothered to get up to investigate once the lift had stopped. Am I missing something? I asked my wolf. She lifted her muzzle and gave a gratuitous sniff. Alrighty, then. You know, we can't afford to keep barreling into trouble because you think we're above the threat. I need to be aware of everything, and once we have the data, we can make an informed decision together. She was my internal radar, my supernatural sensor, and she hadn't triggered a warning when Tally had broken into my office, and Tally was a definite threat. My wolf was clearly taking a more relaxed stance than she should. You know, just because we're strong doesn't mean—
A witch with long golden hair burst through a door on the other side of the room and hustled toward us. "Magdalene just had a vision," she called, addressing Tally directly. "She wants you." Then she grimaced. "And she said to bring along the… female wolf."
Tally nodded and took a step forward, sliding off her black skullcap as she slammed the car door. White hair cascaded down to the middle of her back. It was a lot longer than I would've guessed, and actually kind of pretty. It made her appear decades younger.
I hadn't expected that.
"Keep your fingers at the ready, ladies," she ordered. "As of right now, we are on a yellow alert. The sorcerers are on the hunt. These are my guests"—she jabbed her thumb behind her—"and they are not to be harmed… unless, of course, they draw first blood." She glanced back into the car. "Good enough for you?"
Rourke scowled but opened his door.
Nick and I followed.
I made my way around the vehicle, my internal feelers open despite my unaffected wolf. This Coven hadn't accepted Marcy, and even though her aunt was the most powerful witch in the country—and presided over the Coven—Marcy hadn't been voted in. Witches were expected to perform precisely every time. Their rituals and coming-of-age tasks were legendary. Marcy was extremely powerful but had a habit of misfiring under pressure. Tally may have been able to overrule to let her niece in, if Marcy's last task hadn't been such a spectacular blunder. Over the years, on those rare occasions we drank together, she'd given me snippets of a disjointed tale—something to do with a local donut shop, naked coeds, and a dead rooster.
Needless to say, these witches were no friends of mine.
We followed Tally through the curious spectators, who had stepped back to give us some space. Rourke had waited for me and ushered me in front. Nick had taken up the rear.
"Nice assets, cat," one witch cackled. "Those tattoos are rockin'."
"She doesn't feel strong to me. I could take her."
"She smells like a garbage dump."
I had on a road-worn pair of leggings and a wrinkled T-shirt. I'd showered only once in the past few days. My wolf growled. Now you're upset?
"That cat is hawt."
Rourke ignored them like a champ, his hands firmly planted around my waist, his power sparking me through my shirt.
"I like the brown-haired one. What is he?"
"Smells like a total fox to me."
All these comments were for my benefit. These witches weren't challenging me for Pack status, but they were challenging me nonetheless. My wolf was ramping herself up, getting more agitated by the second.
"She does travel with some delicious men. I don't care if he smells like a mangy feline—I'd still do him." Several witches snickered.
"I would totally fuc—"
In the time it took to blink, I was an inch away from the speaker's startled face.
I clacked my teeth in front of her nose and smiled widely, showing her all my pearly whites. My growl was low and harsh and she backed up quickly. Her shocked reaction was immensely gratifying. My wolf let out a shallow huff of laughter. "In order to do my man, you'll have to go through me first," I said through a clenched jaw. "And after defeating Selene, kicking your ass would be like punching a kindergartener. Not exactly a fair fight."
Murmurs started in earnest, as I knew they would.
Selene, the Lunar Goddess I'd just sent to Hell, was legendary among witches. She'd been a witch herself before ascending to her godhood. The spell caster in front of me gathered her composure with effort. She was young and not very powerful, according to her low signature. But she was gorgeous with sleek black hair and almond-shaped eyes. And I'd just called her bluff in a roomful of her peers. Her expression raged as she seethed, "You don't scare me with all your big talk, mutt. There's no way you took on Selene and won. You're a liar."
Calling me mutt was standard fare, but calling me a liar was a hefty insult. Questioning someone's honor provoked a challenge on the spot. I had to respond, but fighting her here would start something bigger than I intended. "I'd be very careful if I were you. Calling me a liar makes me itchy." I made a fist. "My wolf is begging me to show you some of our new skills."
"Go right ahead." Her eyes narrowed.
Tally turned from the door, her authoritative voice rang out. "Enough, Angie," she ordered. "What she says is true. Selene's presence on this plane has blinked off permanently. According to Lani, it happened more than a day ago. I don't have time to referee a pissing match right now, so I'm ordering you to step down."
The beauty's eyes widened just enough and I unclenched my fist.
I knew without a doubt Marcy hated this witch with a fiery passion. Her inflated ego, likely due to her beauty because she had no power, was nauseating. And if I had to guess, Angie had led the vote to keep Marcy out of the Coven. I wanted to take a bite out of her in solidarity for my friend.
Instead, I settled for snapping the air in front of her nose again with a decisive bite.
She flinched, hitting her head against the wall.
I grinned, ignoring her murderous glare, and whispered, "I win."
"You have no idea what I can do!" she yelled at my retreating back. "You better watch yourself!"
"Quiet, Angie," one of the other witches muttered. "Just let it go."
"Yes, Angie," I said without turning around. "Let it go. If we fight, you lose."
"I won't lose," she called. "I can promise you that. And when I'm done, I'll—"
Rourke physically picked me up and carried me out the door.
Nick slammed it firmly shut behind him, muffling the rest of Angie's threats, which included a hearty description of her talents in the bedroom. "Easy, Jess," Nick said when he saw my face. "Just ignore it. She got in over her head and she couldn't back down."
"I don't care," I said. "She brought it on herself. A challenge is a challenge. You can't expect me to ignore it." Wolves didn't back down from a fight. Ever.
- "Picking up after the life-changing events of Hot Blooded, Carlson doesn't give her heroine or readers a chance to breathe as Cold Blooded starts off with a literal bang. Besides delivering terrific action sequences, Carlson is doing an exceptional job of exploring and unveiling the hidden depths of her characters."—RT Book Reviews (Top Pick)
- "The third installment of Carlson's urban fantasy deepens the complications Jessica faces as she represents the beginning of change to the supernatural community. Series fans should enjoy Carlson's fresh take on lycanthropy."—Library Journal
- "Amanda Carlson's Full Blooded is full of all good things: danger, excitement, an original, LIKEABLE heroine and some great mythological mayhem."—New York Times Bestselling Author Karen Chance
- "Amanda Carlson's debut novel is a fast paced tale with a cliffhanger ending that left me panting for more. Full Blooded left me on the edge of my seat from cover to cover."—New York Times Bestselling Author Faith Hunter
- "A wild, wolfy ride that will have you howling for more!"—Kristen Painter, author of Blood Rights
- "Rising star Carlson is rapidly building a rich world filled with intrigue, betrayal and hidden prophecy; all in all, this series second is a magnificent showing."—RT Book Reviews (Top Pick) on Hot Blooded
- On Sale
- Oct 8, 2013
- Page Count
- 336 pages