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Into the Fire, Page 1

Jeaniene Frost


  To everyone who’s wanted to see Dracula

  (excuse me, VLAD) get a happily-ever-after.


  I’m going to break with the normal format by being long-winded and personal on this Acknowledgments, so feel free to skip. However, what I’m not going to change is my thanking God first. (I’ve done that for the past fourteen books, and I’m not going to stop now, especially considering this past year.) My mother died over New Year’s, and since she hadn’t been well for a while, I thought I had been “braced” for her death. I’ve since learned that some things can never be braced for. Right as I was coming to terms with the depth of my grief and the never-before-experienced writer’s block that came along with it, my father had four near-death illnesses within three months. If that wasn’t enough, even my dog required multiple surgeries.

  The release of Into the Fire was therefore delayed while I put myself back together enough to write. More than once, I thought the title was an apt description for my emotional state. However, I did not go through all this alone. The last line from the poem “Footprints” says it perfectly: “During your time of trial and suffering, when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.” Thank you, Jesus, for all the times you carried me, both this year and every year before it.

  I also need to thank my husband for his incredible support, not to mention my family and friends. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t thank my longtime editor, Erika Tsang, and my agent, Nancy Yost, for all their hard work. But, since I warned you that I was going to be long-winded and personal, I’m going to get back to talking about my mother. For starters, she had a wicked sense of humor, so I can almost hear her saying, “Oh, now that I’m dead, you’re finally going to say nice things about me to your readers?” Well, better late than never, Mom! *wink*

  In all seriousness, she was my first fan back when I started writing poetry at age eleven. I showed her my poems, but because I was shy, I also asked her not to share them with anyone. Then, at the next family gathering, every one of my relatives told me how much they’d liked them. When I confronted my mother, she said, “But, honey, I couldn’t keep those to myself. I’m too proud of you!” Fast forward a couple decades to my mother being unable to stop herself from blurting out “My daughter’s a bestselling author!” to everyone she met. This embarrassed me, of course, so I told her to stop. She mostly managed to contain herself—as long as I wasn’t within earshot.

  This was perhaps best illustrated a few years ago when my husband and I went to his favorite clothing store. We had only been there about five minutes when one of the clerks came up to me and said, “You write vampire novels, don’t you?” I was dumbfounded and said, “Yes, but how do you know that?”

  Turns out, my parents had been in the store the day before shopping for a birthday present for my husband. True to form, my mother couldn’t even go on a shopping excursion without whipping out one of my books (she carried them next to her oxygen tank in her wheelchair), showing it to the clerks, and going on and on about how her daughter was an author. She showed them my picture at the back of the book, too, which is how the clerks recognized me. I was embarrassed by all this, of course, and apologized for the scene my mother must have caused, but the clerks just laughed and said, “Honey, she’s proud of you.”

  I am proud of her, too, for too many reasons to list, but I’ll name a few. Three decades ago, when my father’s company went out of business, my mom took a job scrubbing toilets at the same hospital where my parents had previously been affluent donors. She then worked her way up to becoming one of the few female directors at that hospital, even winning local, regional, and national director’s awards. Yet more than being an example of not letting tough circumstances defeat you, she also personified the importance of family. This wasn’t by giving speeches, although she gave a lot of speeches on that topic. Instead, I learned it by watching her stay in touch with relatives even if she hadn’t seen them in decades, or by seeing her forgive family grievances that seemed unforgivable, or by arguing with her over her insistence on helping relatives despite her own stretched finances, or by seeing her open her door to any family member who needed a place to stay.

  In short, I’m glad for every day I had with my mother, and I’m even happier that she married my father because he loved her in a way that not even death can diminish. I doubt I’ll live up to her example (or my grandmother’s example, or my great grandmother’s, or my great-aunt’s, and the list goes on), but when people ask me “Why do you write strong heroines?” the answer is easy: I grew up seeing them.

  Thanks, Mom. Love you and miss you.



  Title Page



  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Chapter 31

  Chapter 32

  Chapter 33

  Chapter 34

  Chapter 35

  Chapter 36

  Chapter 37

  Chapter 38

  Chapter 39

  Chapter 40

  Chapter 41

  Chapter 42

  Chapter 43

  Chapter 44

  Chapter 45

  Chapter 46

  Chapter 47

  Chapter 48

  Chapter 49


  Night Huntress

  Announcement to Halfway to the Grave

  Halfway to the Grave

  Announcement to One Foot in the Grave

  One Foot in the Grave

  Announcement to At Grave’s End

  At Grave’s End

  Announcement to Destined for an Early Grave

  Destined for an Early Grave

  Announcement to This Side of the Grave

  This Side of the Grave

  Announcement to One Grave at a Time

  One Grave at a Time

  Announcement to Up From the Grave

  Up From the Grave

  About the Author

  Praise for Jeaniene Frost

  By Jeaniene Frost


  About the Publisher

  Chapter 1

  Flying at high speeds through a forest is less dangerous than it looks. At least, that’s what I told myself the few times I opened my eyes. Mostly, I kept them shut. Not just because it was easier to maintain my psychic link with the man we were hunting, but I also didn’t need to know how close we came to the countless trees Vlad maneuvered us around as we flew through the thickly wooded countryside.

  You’ll survive if he hits one, I reminded myself. We were both vampires, so we could heal almost any injury in seconds, but I hoped I wasn’t about to find out how much it would hurt if we splatted into a tree at over a hundred miles an hour. I already knew more about pain than most people ever would, and I didn’t want to add to that repertoire.

  “Is Branson still in the manor?” Vlad said, raising his voice so the wind couldn’t snatch away his words.

  I ran my fingers over the belt buckle I’d been holding on to this entire time. It had once belonged to Branson, and Branson was in league with Vlad’s nephew/stepson/new worst enemy, Mircea. We’d been looking for Mircea for months, yet had come up empty. Branson was our best lead on him, and soon we’d find out exactly what Branson knew about Mircea.

  I concentrated on the essence trail that Branson had imprinted upon the belt buckle until it sharpened my inner focus. Once I had followed it back to its source, my surroundings changed, taking on the look of an odd double exposure. Part of me saw the forest we flew through while the rest of me saw a long, ornate room with high ceilings and tall, fancy paintings lining both sides of the walls.

  “Yes. He’s pacing now, and he keeps checking his cell phone.”

  I felt Vlad’s chuckle as it vibrated against my forehead, and it held the distinct undercurrent of a predator’s growl. “He won’t be waiting long for my reply.”

  With that, we broke through the tree line. I dropped my link so I could see the imposing structure I’d only glimpsed before through my psychic connection. The large house was made entirely of gray stone, with the main building over two stories high and ancient lookout towers over the formal entryway. The tall trees hid the city beyond, and the vast grounds kept the other views of civilization away, making it look as if we’d been dropped back in time several hundred years.

  Since Vlad had been born in the fourteen hundreds, he ought to feel right at home in this medieval setting. Since I was only twenty-six, I didn’t.

  Vlad slowed down, dropping us onto the manicured part of the lawn that surrounded the fortress. “Stay here,” he said, striding toward the entrance.

  I caught up to him instead. “What part of ‘we do this together’ did you translate as ‘leave Leila behind’?” I hissed, keeping my voice down since we weren’t the only ones with supernatural hearing.

  His aura broke through his inner shields. Even though he’d released only a sliver of his power, it still felt as if I’d just gotten subconsciously scalded. If I were anyone else, I’d be terrified at pissing off the legendary Vlad Tepesh, meaning “Impaler,” aka Dracula, aka don’t-ever-call-him-Dracula-if-you-want-to-live, but I was Mrs. Vlad Dracul, thank you very much. Uncrowned prince of darkness or no, Vlad wasn’t pulling this crap with me.

  “We can fight about it until Branson hears us, or we can get him together quietly,” I went on, narrowing my eyes. “Your choice.”

  The high-arched portico covering the fortress’s main entrance suddenly exploded, jetting out fire and pieces of stone. I ducked from instinct, but Vlad walked right toward the burning chaos, the fire parting to let him pass.

  “Does that answer your question?” he asked.

  Before I could respond, a wall of fire sprang up, spreading until it encompassed the entire castle. Guess he’d changed his mind about being stealthy. Worse, now I couldn’t follow him. Unlike Vlad, I wasn’t fireproof.

  “That’s cheating!” I shouted. No need to talk softly now.

  I thought I heard him laugh, but between the roar of the fire and the cracking of stone from the crumpling entryway, I couldn’t be sure. Damn Vlad and his archaic ideas about women in combat. He’d rather I be under heavy guard back at his castle in Romania. I probably would be, if an enemy hadn’t blown up his castle and kidnapped me from its rubble months ago. Otherwise, Vlad would never have agreed to go back on his no-wife-allowed-on-killing-missions rule.

  Or, I thought, eyeing the wall of fire that only he could pass through, it seemed he’d only partially gone back on it. My teeth ground. I could stand here and seethe, or I could make myself useful. Besides, revenge was a dish best served cold, and I would get him back. I just had to wait until everything around me wasn’t on fire.

  I rubbed the belt buckle again, seeking the essence imprint. Once I had it, my surroundings changed into the richly furnished room that our quarry was still standing in. Branson wasn’t looking at his phone anymore. He was staring out the window in horror at flames that leapt all the way up to the roof. Branson knew only one vampire in the world could control fire this way, and it was the same vampire that he’d been caught betraying.

  Then Branson ran, which I expected, but he didn’t head for the door. Instead, he pressed a panel near one of the room’s many paintings. A hidden door swung open, and he darted inside a steel-lined room and closed the door before I could mentally switch channels.

  Branson has a panic room! I sent to Vlad once I was tuned in to him.

  Vlad paused on his way up a long, curved staircase, giving an amused glance toward the second floor.

  “Then he’s in for another surprise.”

  His words reached me through our link instead of the normal way, so the continual portico collapse must be drowning out everything else. Once I had hated my psychic abilities so much that I’d attempted suicide, but now they came in handy. I still loathed reliving people’s worst sins the first time I touched them, but nothing important came without a cost.

  A red Porsche bursting through the wall of fire surprised me into dropping my link to Vlad. The car’s speed caused it to fishtail as soon as it hit grassy terrain. Glowing green eyes revealed that the driver was a vampire, but it couldn’t be Branson. He’d locked himself in a panic room.

  This had to be one of Branson’s friends. Maybe he was in league with Mircea, too. Even if he wasn’t, only someone who’d also betrayed Vlad would be in such a hurry to get out of here. With Vlad busy trying to bust in the panic room, I was the only person standing in the way of this treacherous driver and his freedom. I chased after the car. If it reached the driveway, I’d be screwed. Unlike Vlad, I couldn’t fly, and the Porsche could go much faster than me once it was on flat, paved ground.

  The car shot forward with a burst of speed. Damn, the driver must’ve spotted me. Now he was only a dozen feet away from the driveway. I put everything I had into a desperate lunge. If I reached the car’s bumper, I could flip it—

  I ducked when multiple cracks smashed through the back windshield. Two bullets whizzed over my head, and the third one struck me in the shoulder instead of the heart. From the burn, the bullets were silver. Of course. Any other ammunition was useless against vampires.

  Pain caused my powers to flare. A long, sizzling whip shot from my right hand and I cracked it toward the car. The electricity it contained caused it to tear through the Porsche’s frame as if it were butter. More gunshots had me spinning to avoid another volley of bullets, and I used my velocity to full advantage. When I swung back around, my electrical whip had lengthened, and I lashed the car with all the force I had in me.

  It split in two, the front section still going several feet before the car’s weight caused it to cave in. A fire broke out, and I couldn’t tell if it was those flames that made the driver scream, or if I’d sliced through more than the car’s frame. I stayed low as I circled around to the driver’s door, my whip crackling as I readied it to strike again.

  “Drop the gun and get out, or—”

  I didn’t get a chance to complete my threat. Flames shot over the car, too thick and numerous to be from the electrical fire. Then Vlad slammed down next to me, the ground shuddering from the force of his impact. He shoved me behind him and rounded on the burning car.

  “You shot at my wife?” The flames intensified. High-pitched, panicked screams made me wince from more than their assault on my enhanced hearing.

  I grabbed his arm. “Stop, we might need him alive.”

  Vlad glanced at me and saw the blood from the bullet wound in my shoulder. At once, his arm became so hot that my hand started to catch fire. I let him go, and he turned back to the car with a smile that made further argument useless.

  I knew that smile. It meant someone was about to die.

  I took a few steps backward as the screams from inside the car became even more frenzied. When Vlad’s shields dropped and I felt the full force of his rage, it didn’t surprise me to see the P
orsche begin to glow as red as the car’s paint job.

  Then the car melted into itself as Vlad’s incredible power turned metal into molten liquid. The screams stopped. So did the sounds of breaking glass and twisting steel. Soon, all I heard was a hiss as the ground caught fire.

  I reached out to Vlad again, this time not dropping my hand even though his flesh still scorched me through the thin material of his shirt. “You might want to consider working on your anger management issues,” I said in a light tone.

  A bark of laughter escaped him. “So say my many enemies.”

  When he turned around and pulled me to him, his body was no longer scorching, and the emotions intertwining with mine now felt only marginally insane with rage; a vast improvement. He kissed me, and I didn’t care that the stubble shadowing his chiseled jaw rasped my face. All I focused on was his kiss and the wave of love pouring through our connection, even more powerful than the rage that had caused him to melt a car as easily as a normal person could strike a match.

  When Vlad stopped kissing me, another emotion poured through the bond that had formed the moment Vlad had raised me as a vampire. Regret.

  “I shouldn’t have done that.” He gave a frustrated glance at the smoldering heap of melted metal. “I know better than to kill an enemy before I interrogate him, but I saw the bullet hole in your shirt and . . .”

  “Blew your fuse,” I finished, giving him a lopsided smile. “Happens to the best of men, I’m told.”

  Another harsh laugh. “Perhaps, but never to me.” Until you, was left unsaid, but I didn’t need to feel his emotions to know he was thinking it.

  “Cheer up,” I said, striving to lighten his mood. “Once you bust through that panic room door, you can interrogate Branson for days, and no one will ever know you spilled your lighter fluid too soon with this guy.”

  This time, his laughter held hints of real amusement. “I look forward to such a redemption.”

  “Well, let me make sure Branson didn’t try to run for it while you were out here,” I said, grabbing the belt buckle again. In moments, I saw the inside of a small panic room. It had a single chair, a twin set of control panels, and several screens that showed live video feed from both the interior and the exterior of the manor.