Natasha’s life begins the night she is turned. With the ability to channel fire, a gift that only belongs to the witches, she becomes a terror— not only to the packs, but all the supernatural breeds. She’s known as Blaze. The deadliest vampire out there.But Blaze has a secret. She didn’t want to become a vampire, she needed to become a vampire, and her reasoning is lost. It died the night her human life did.Her conscience activates when two varcolacs visit the covenant, looking for allies for the Great War.
What was it about the Varcolacs that made her grow a conscience? And will she be able to outrun it to keep the title of terror?
I shifted uselessly against my bonds and gasped as the metal dug into my skin. The chains and heavy locks that shackled my arms and legs to the stiff chair beneath me were made of UVS metal, among the strongest and deadliest metals to our kind. It weakened us so badly that we didn’t even have the strength of a mere human.
I winced at the pain throbbing in my neck. Werewolf bite.
It was a known fact that vampires did not live long, seven days at most, when bitten by a werewolf. Nobody here would suck out the venom, and no one was coming to my rescue.
Tonight’s events played through my mind in vivid detail.
Cass had let me go. After so many years, she finally let me go. But when I saw Vladimire and Francine, I knew it had all been a lie.
Alex and Leigh never stood a chance. Varcolacs were no match for werewolves. They weren’t as strong and their bodies couldn’t hold the Stra-vain—a concentrated dose of a rare plant that allowed werewolves to transform at will—in their system. Varcolacs had to wait for the full moon.
A few nights ago, when I was camping under the moonlight with Alex and Leigh, I’d thought I was the luckiest vampire in history. I had been given a second chance at life. An opportunity to make something good come from evil.
But that second night, when Alex smelled wolves on our tail, I knew it was just one of Cass’s cruel games.
She’d lied when she told me I could be with Alex, that she knew what it felt like to be in love with a Varcolac. She’d never intended to allow me to leave—not her precious Firebird, Natasha.
But never in a million years had I thought she would send my werewolf children to drag me back home.
What had she been thinking? That I wouldn’t kill them? Or harm them?
When they attacked, I took on Vladimire first. Vladimire, who was like a son to me. I still remembered the day I went to pick him up, or really the day I stole him and his twin sister, Francine.
There in the woods, at first, I couldn’t find it in myself to kill him. I tried to scare him with my fire. That hadn’t made him back off, and he’d taunted me, telling me I didn’t have it in me to burn him alive. He was wrong.
Francine had attacked Leigh, and Alex had tried to help. His foot triggered a bear trap, but he still fought as hard as he could. Leigh and Alex tried their best to kill Francine.
I aimed my merciless fire at Vladimire, my Vladimire. Watching him die by my hands ripped my heart to shreds, but I knew it was either us or them.
When he was a charred corpse, I steeled myself to attack Francine next. Killing her should be easier than Vladimire—she was the more sadistic of the two.
But then a werewolf pack came out of nowhere.
Since the One was found and bitten, since the discovery that Stra-vain was the opposite of Wolfsbane, werewolves had become vampires’ worst nightmare again. They no longer needed the full moon to change and hunt us down. They could do it anytime they wanted.
Many covens had been destroyed that way.
As I turned my flame upon the newcomers, a she-wolf sprang forward and bit me. Poison flowed through my system and weakened me instantaneously; my fire, the flames I had trusted for such a long time, flickered and burned out. Hatred flickered in the eyes of the creatures who encircled me; the entire pack knew who and what I was—the thorn in their hides.
Alex and Leigh’s agonized screams filled the air, and I knew their screams would stay with me until the day I died. My heart shattered when I saw Leigh lying close to a tree, her eyes open and lifeless, a bloody chunk ripped from her neck. Alex was nowhere to be seen.
The werewolf pack had immediately recognized Alex and Leigh for what they were—Varcolacs. Werewolves saw Varcolacs as abominations, as somewhere in the past a werewolf and a vampire had found a way not just to make it work, but to truly love one another.
The pack’s Alpha arrived, and with a barked command, he ended the battle. He knew who I was and he had orders. I was another wolf’s to deal with. He and his pack were only there to bring me in alive. He shouldered his way through his pack and roughly threw me over his shoulder.
That was when I saw Alex.
The lower part of his body was detached from his torso. My heart clenched. I wanted to scream my pain into the night, wanted my flame to incinerate the whole pack of werewolves… but I was too weak from the bite. I couldn’t even lift my head.
And that was how I came to be here, tied to this chair, waiting for Salvator.
I’d never been this tired before. I’d never felt so… I blew out a gust of air. I couldn’t even put words to what I felt.
My dusty blonde hair covered my face and I tried to muster another gush of breath to blow the loose strands from my eyes.
I should hate the werewolves as much as they hated me. They attacked me when I was human and left me for dead. That was when Cassandra had found me and changed me out of the goodness of her heart. Or so the story went. I actually had no idea if that was the truth, because I had no memory of my life before becoming a vampire
Cassandra’s beautiful face appeared in my mind’s eye. Her face was borderline angelic. I was pretty certain she had some Hispanic heritage from the slant of her eyes, but with her skin as pale as it was, I couldn’t be sure. She had dark hair and crimson eyes—all vampires’ eyes changed. Some of us had bright crimson eyes. Others, like me, had translucently pale eyes—demon eyes, as some called them. But that transformation only happened if we stopped feeding off humans.
I loved Cassandra with all my heart. For a long time, she was all I wanted, and making her happy was my sole purpose. No matter how cruel or gory the task was, I always went through with it, because I never wanted to disappoint her.
The idea to build a werewolf army was something Cassandra and I had hatched. We’d stolen dozens of pups from the werewolf lairs, and all of them—except Bibi, Babilon, Vladimire, and Francine—had died. Now, Francine had returned to her own kind, gone feral, so to speak.
Did I love Cassandra now?
Honestly, I couldn’t say. I had no idea what to feel.
Alex hadn’t just changed how I felt about Cassandra. He’d become my everything. When they’d formed an alliance with our coven, I’d been at a breaking point. I had lost my will to live.
But there was just something about Alex and his sister, Leigh. They’d both intrigued Cassandra, too, probably because her first love had been a Varcolac.
The Varcolac she’d loved had been named Jericho. Whenever Cassandra thought I wasn’t near, she cried for him. But he’d almost destroyed her, almost killed her.
Why, I had no idea.
All I knew was that Cass used to be a witch. She used to have a coven filled with misfits. Vampires, shifters, djinns, Varcolacs. Somehow, she made it work. Whether she employed magic or connections or charisma or all of the above, I didn’t know; Cassandra rarely spoke about that part of her life.
But she’d made it possible for all of them to find a common ground. To exist in relative peace.
Then Jericho turned on her. Nobody talked about it, so I didn’t know how or why he’d almost killed her.
Steven had been the one to change her into a vampire.
After her change, the witches abandoned her, but she continued brewing potions—potions for the wolves so they didn’t become stark raving mad during the full moon and have to be locked up; potions that helped the wolves transform at will, like Stra-vain.
It wasn’t just Cassandra’s potions that were potent; she was. That was the thing I loved about her. She was invincible—just the right match for a vampire with the fire. Neither of us was a simpering damsel in distress. Two vampire women united by sheer power and passionate love for one another. I’d thought we’d last forever.
But she had built impenetrable walls inside herself the day Jericho almost destroyed her. On the days she was cold and distant to me, it felt like he had destroyed her, but I hadn’t known her before my change, so this was only a guess.
I sighed, pushing her to the back of my mind.
Dizziness made my eyes swim as I looked at the UVS locks on my ankles and wrists. There was no way I would get out of this one. I knew they would kill me because of who I was… and send my remains back to Cassandra in a box.
Logically, I should have been quaking with fear, but a part of me was glad my life was finally over.
Alex was supposed to be my new beginning. I was going to live with him and his pack. They were technically waiting for us right now, to migrate for the next seventy years somewhere in Eastern Europe.
And now, he was gone. Leigh was gone. No new beginning waited for me. Monsters didn’t get second chances, and I was one of the worst.
Perhaps it wasn’t so bad that I was finally going to die. Until I’d met Alex, I’d wanted to die for such a long time, so in a way, I was already dead.
If I died, the world would be rid of one terror, and as a bonus, it would spite Cassandra.
Her plan to drag me back had backfired.
I wish I could see the look on her face when she discovered I had perished in the process, that her werewolf twins had betrayed her, and that Francine had defected.
Talk about cutting your nose off to spite your face. The consequences were severe. I was going to pay with my life. Again I shifted in my shackles, looking around the rundown shed where I was being held prisoner. Where I awaited my imminent death.
I had celebrated my twenty-second birthday almost fifty times. Most humans would wonder why I was complaining, because the whole being-young-forever thing seems so appealing, but if they knew my entire story, they’d realize why I despised this life I’d chosen to live. A life that, according to Steven, I had wanted desperately. Had begged for as I lay dying.
No one knew why I had so desperately wanted to become a vampire. Apparently my former self was extremely secretive and never revealed the reasoning behind the insatiable desire for this path. Everyone said the same thing: that I just insisted that becoming a vampire was the only way. The question was… the only way for what?
Maybe if I recapped everything in my head, I could make sense of how I got here. Best to start from the beginning, the day I woke up and nothing mattered to me, nothing but Cassandra. The day Natasha became Blaze.
42 years earlier – 2016
PAIN. The first thing I felt was pain, searing me from the inside out. My skin felt as if it had been set on fire, and the stench of charred flesh filled my nostrils. Something was mauling me on the inside, tearing at my organs. I knew I was dying, but death never came and the pain carried on and on. Pure torture.
Suddenly it all disappeared. Everything inside me died. My love, my soul, my conscience—even my memories, even the secrets—all of it. Everything in my mind got wiped clean. I was no longer me. Just black and dark.
Then came the thirst. An unbearable, excruciating craving. I didn’t know what was happening, but I didn’t like the scorching dryness of my throat. It was enough to make me lose my mind.
I jumped up from the bed and rammed into something solid. I scurried up the wall until my head bumped against the ceiling, wanting to get away from whatever I had rammed into.
I waited to hear the pounding of my racing heart in my chest, waited to feel the thrumming of my pulse against my skin, but none of that came. Strangely, I was calm. I was supposed to be dead, but there I was, doing something quite impossible. Clinging to a wall. Defying gravity.
I looked down from my position in the corner of the room.
Four pale figures with dark blood-red eyes stared up at me. Light flickered, burning my eyes, but I kept staring. My breath came out in fast rasps, when abruptly I realized I didn’t need to breathe. My heart wasn’t beating, so why was I breathing?
One of the figures, a woman with a pale, oval face, gazed straight into my eyes. Her hair was black and shiny, and her eyes were wide as if in surprise. A sense of peace and belonging overpowered me, but then my internal senses heightened and my skin crawled. I can’t trust it, not one bit. I tried to remember who she was, but I couldn’t. All I knew was that I shouldn’t trust them.
The man next to her lay a warning hand on her shoulder as if to halt her, though she hadn’t yet moved. He also had crimson eyes and he was tall and lean with golden-blond hair.
An older man stood in the corner. He seemed upset; the hard lines forming on his face made me question everything about this room. A tall figure stood on my left. I quickly moved toward him until his pale skin was inches from my face. His cologne smelled sickeningly sweet, like candy.
I retreated back to my corner, but after a few seconds, I realized I hadn’t moved at all. I was still perched motionlessly in the corner of the ceiling. It was my eyesight. My vision was perfectly clear and could focus sharply on tiny things impossibly far away. My sense of smell was keen, too keen really; I wrinkled my nose at the realization that I could smell everything in the room if I focused on it.
And only now did I realize something that would have made my heart hammer in my chest if I’d still had a pulse: I was pinned against the wall. I couldn’t move. My hands and feet were stuck like glue against the surface.
“Natasha,” the woman said.
My name is Natasha? Why didn’t it feel right?
She continued in an angelic voice, “What you are experiencing right now is normal.”
I cocked my head sideways and regarded her, my incredible eyesight drinking in her features. Her soft, pale skin mesmerized me. She was uncommonly beautiful, but danger emanated from her.
“Who’s Natasha?” The thought escaped my lips and my own voice stunned me. It sounded sweet, like a song, like a lie. It didn’t feel natural. What the hell had happened to me?
The woman stepped a couple of paces forward with her hand reached out toward me, gentle, as if approaching a spooked farm animal. “You don’t remember who you are?”
I stared at her, silent.
The corner of her mouth raised slightly, but not so much that the others could see. I cocked my head again and the curves disappeared.
“My name is Cassandra. I’m your creator.”
“Creator?” I frowned. What did she mean by that?
“Yes. Do you not remember what happened earlier tonight?”
“Cassandra, what is this?” the man leaning against the wall in the corner asked. “Why doesn’t she remember?”
“Shh, Darius,” she ordered without taking her eyes off mine. To my surprise, the man subsided.
The woman spoke to me again. “You are safe, Natasha. You can come down from there. I promise no one will hurt you.” Something in her voice, her entire being, told me she wasn’t a threat, that I could trust this crimson-eyed beauty.
I swallowed hard. The dryness of my throat had formed a nauseating lump. My left foot moved first, then my right arm. Getting up had been a lot easier than getting down.
I lost my grip and landed on all fours like a cat. My balance was out-of-this-world perfect. I turned around, searching my backside for a tail, but of course there was nothing.
I looked up at the four of them. The men all stood in front of Cassandra, nearly forming a wall before her, as if they were protecting her. I glanced around the room, and it all started to make sense. They were protecting her from me.
I got up slowly. The dryness in my throat was now unbearable, and I needed to ease it. A vase with wilted flowers caught my eye, and with a swift movement, I grabbed it. I dumped the flowers on the ground and gulped down the stale water. When the last droplet of water slid down my throat, I groaned in frustration. The thirst was more insistent than ever. Nausea twisted and turned in my stomach, and I doubled over as water and bile made its way up my esophagus. I heaved and heaved until my guts seemed satisfied that the vile liquid was completely gone.
“What’s wrong with me?” I moaned through a coughing fit, spitting on the floor.
“Water won’t quench your thirst.” Cassandra crouched down in front of me. “Bring in her first meal.”
“She needs to feed, Darius.”
“She doesn’t even know what she is,” Darius’s voice was hostile, but his tone didn’t seem to bother Cassandra.
She seemed unfazed as she stared at me with pure admiration. Her friendly smile told me that I had no need to worry, that everything would be okay. “She’ll soon discover that by herself.”
A deliciously sweet aroma filled my nostrils. It came with a beating drum. I’d never smelled anything so heavenly before. My stomach growled and my lips became dryer. I turned my gaze in the direction of the beautiful smell.
It was a girl. She seemed terrified. Some sort of clear, salty-smelling liquid rolled from her eyes down her cheeks. Somehow, I knew liquid wasn’t the right word, but my memory offered no other words. It was strange, but my mind seemed to be selective when it came to what I needed to know.
The scent of the girl was so enticing that I was nearly salivating—or would have been if I had any saliva to spare.
The drumming beat louder and louder. I covered my ears with my hands, hoping it would tamp down the sound.
Cassandra, having come out from behind her wall of protectors without my noticing, touched my hands and eased them to my sides. “Don’t try to silence the sound. It’s who you are. Use it. When the beating stops, you stop.”
I squinted, not understanding a word. Something sharp pricked my lips from the inside. A shot of hot liquid ran down my throat. Blood, my blood, coating my throat.
I had to get more. My tongue glided over my teeth and stopped when it met a deadly sharp fang.
Realization struck, sudden and complete. What I was jolted through me. Instinct took over.
A horrible shriek left the fragile little creature in front of me as I took two swift leaps and connected with her body. Her bones shattered under my grip, but the sound didn’t stop me from sinking my teeth into her neck. When my fangs pierced her flesh, warm blood filled my mouth. I moaned with satisfaction as it flowed down my throat, easing the scorching pain. I bit harder and sucked thirstily. The drumming beat slowed, growing fainter and fainter before completely fading away.
“Natasha,” Cassandra yelled as I kept drinking. An ache formed in the pit of my stomach, but I couldn’t stop my feast.
“Natasha,” she yelled again. Something slammed into my body. My fangs were wrenched from the girl’s neck. I flew through the air and crashed against the wall.
I was immediately on my feet. My mind was clouded. A flicker on my hand caught my eye. It was captivating. I lifted my hand and admired the hot flame dancing in my palm, watching it flick over my hand and up my wrist. For some reason, it didn’t hurt me, almost as if it was part of me. An amazing sense of power settled in my core and I forgot about the lifeless girl, about being wrenched from my meal.
Whatever this flame was… it was making me powerful.
Cassandra approached me with small, tentative steps. I shifted my gaze from the flame to the corpse behind Cassandra, before looking at Cassandra. My flame disappeared as she neared me, and her lips spread into a smile.
She touched my cheek gently. I flinched away, but she touched me again and my body seemed to melt into her touch. Her hand was warm and soft; it sent a tingle all over my body.
I loved her touch.
“She’s dead,” Cassandra whispered in my ear. “First rule: we don’t drink from the dead. You’re still thirsty.”
“Good,” she said. She gestured at the door and it opened again. That drumming beat sounded in my ears again.
A male voice protested. “Cassandra, what—?”
“Darius, she needs to feed!” Cassandra glared at Darius.
He quickly shut his mouth and turned his eyes down to the ground.
My next meal was waiting. I didn’t wait for instructions this time. I pounced on my meal, crushing weak bones in my grip and piercing the warm flesh. The taste was different this time, not as sweet, but still delicious. I listened to the heartbeat growing fainter. I withdrew my fangs when it faded away. I heard footsteps and the creak of leather shoes as Darius quickly walked away.
When I looked up, he was framed in the doorway. He turned and pierced Cassandra with his gaze, a warning glint in his eyes. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you. You never should’ve changed her.”
Our eyes met for a fraction of a second, and I saw a flash of fear in his eyes. Fear of what, me?
He disappeared through the door.
“Dig in, my little firebird,” Cassandra whispered in my ear.
My gaze fell on five other helpless figures being brought into the room.
Before the first one had a chance to blink, my teeth sank into his flesh.