Anne rubbed her throbbing head as the escalator dumped her on the second level of the Highlands Mall. Why couldn’t the vampires have chosen a more secluded place to do the switch? Something like a warehouse down by the docks or one of the vacant buildings out by the airport. No, they had to choose the largest mall in the city – and on the second floor of a three floor complex. Fortunately, the closed restaurant being used for the trade was just off of the escalator. Anne wouldn’t have to wade through the packed walkways. A mall security guard intercepted Anne as she took a step towards the restaurant.

“Detective Hearst?” he asked. When she nodded, he handed her a key. “Only you and two others may go in. Any more and the deal is off.” The guard smartly spun and walked off before she could say anything.

Okay, Samantha and Veronica go in with Anne, Jason ordered over their telepathic link. He told Erik what was happening via cell phone. For some reason, Erik couldn’t be connected into the telepathic link, which was why Erik was outside the mall waiting to track Anne and the vampires when they came out. At least, that’s what Samantha and Erik said, but Anne was sure there was more to it.

Anne unlocked the door to the restaurant and Veronica strode into the darkened interior. The sorceress’s hands were faintly glowing with stored magic. Anne could see the wild magic bound to Veronica’s hands. Any vampire that dared to put its hands on Veronica was going to be immolated. Samantha stepped through next with Anne trailing the two women.

That’s odd, Samantha said, I’m hearing another set of thoughts besides Mia. Someone who knows you Anne. He keeps complaining you haven’t come yet.

Who? Anne asked, pausing at the edge of the entryway.

I don’t know, but he’s pissed, Samantha answered. Anne thought hard for a brief moment, but she couldn’t think of anyone she knew that would have been involved with the vampires. Anne motioned for Samantha and Veronica to step into the restaurant proper. She followed a few steps behind. As soon as she turned the corner, Anne froze and reached for a pistol that wasn’t there. Standing next to a blindfolded Mia Gold was Detective Harvey Welks.

“About damned time,” Welks growled as he saw the trio. “Some of the clan are in here with us. As long as everything goes smoothly, you won’t see them. If you try anything at all, then they will kill the songbird here.” Welks was staring directly at Anne.

“Welks, this is your game,” Anne said, surprising herself with the calm tone, “How are we doing this?”

“Let’s keep this simple, okay?” Welks answered, “The songbird walks to you and you walk to me. Once we both have what we want, you walk back out that door, and we go our way. Oh, and just to keep things honest.” He held up a gold medallion on a silver chain. It glowed like someone was hitting it was a flashlight.

“How did you get one of those?” Veronica hissed, her eyes fixed on the small disc.

“Never you mind,” Welks answered confidently, “From your reaction, I imagine you know what it’s for.”

“It’s a tal’kra. Any binding of wild magic and it will glow,” Veronica supplied for Anne’s benefit. “I didn’t know there were any on this side of the gate.”

“So that’s what it’s called,” Welks said, sounding amused, “So, you know what to do to make it stop glowing, because this trade ain’t happening until this little trinket is quiet.” Anne scowled. That made things more difficult. Veronica was supposed to back her if the vampires decided to double-cross them while Samantha protected Mia Gold until Jason, Kurt, and the others reached them. Veronica glared at Welks as she released her bindings. Anne felt as the wild magic was released and balanced into the flows around her. The tal’kra‘s glow faded.

Satisfied, Welks gave Mia Gold a rough shove towards Samantha and Veronica. The singer stumbled from the unexpected shove, but quickly recovered. Anne had to admire the singer’s poise. Even after being kidnapped and blindfolded, Mia Gold was walking like she was on the red carpet. Anne strode over to Welks with a look of disgust on her face. Welks looked unconcerned. As she neared, Welks produced a pair of flex-cuffs and motioned for her to turn around. As Welks secured the plastic restraints to her wrist, Anne watched Samantha hustle Mia Gold out of the restaurant. Veronica stood like a statue of a petite, angry Indian goddess. Anne gave her a small nod. Veronica cautiously backed out of the restaurant.

“I told them you’d come quietly,” Welks said as soon as the Avalonians were out of the restaurant. “They, on the other hand, wanted some more precautions.” Before Anne could ask what he meant, she felt the prick of a needle at her neck. Blackness quickly swallowed her.


At least she’s safe, Erik thought to himself as he waited for this Welks person to emerge from the mall with Anne. He was perched on top of the mall’s parking garage. It was the only place where he had a view of all the major and minor exits. Erik would sense Anne’s psi-scent when they emerged, and then he’d jump down to one of the pre-positioned vehicles to follow them. He had to give the vampires some credit. Their plan was smart. The mall was crowded enough to provide enough background psychic noise – normally. Spending three months, day in and day out, with Anne allowed Erik to quickly find her psi-scent.

Erik heard the soft thump behind him, and he spun around. Nao was leaning on a car some fifteen feet away. In tight black slacks and a brilliant blue blouse, she looked like she’d just stepped off of some high-end photo shoot. Erik suppressed a pang of need as her glowing blue eyes met his. His hand dropped to the hilt of Far’ling hidden just beneath his long coat.

“You do not want to do that, lover,” Nao said, the ghost of a smile dancing across her ruby-red lips.

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure that I do,” Erik replied, “And I’m not your lover.”

“Not yet, but soon,” Nao said. In the blink of an eye, she was standing next to Erik. Very close to Erik. Her hand clamped down on his before he could draw the elven sword. The other hand grabbed Erik’s head and pulled it down into a light kiss. Erik’s head swam as her venom surged into his blood. Nao stepped back.

“Stay out of our affairs, love,” Nao said, “There are goings on within my cland that you are not aware of. I can’t protect you if you insist on interfering.” Erik looked down into Nao’s perfectly sculpted face. She gave him a smile that was equal parts compassion and seduction. He felt her hand loosen on his sword hand. Erik hit her with the strongest blast of power he could muster.

Nao flew across the roof of the parking garage and slammed into a concrete pillar. There were cracks in the pillar as she slid down to the ground. Nao looked up and gave Erik a look of amusement.

“I’m going to cut your heart out,” Erik said, unsheathing Far’ling.

“No, you’re not,” Nao said confidently as she picked herself up off the concrete floor. “You will soon realize that I am your true match. Not that pathetic weakling I saw in your mind.” Her eyes flickered to the shining silver blade in Erik’s hand. “Not tonight though. You aren’t ready.” She leapt into the night sky and vanished from sight. Erik keyed the radio.

“Jason, I lost Anne,” Erik said, “But I managed to tag one of the vampires with one of those trackers of yours. We’ll know where they took Anne shortly.” Erik clicked off the radio before the American could reply and sank to the ground as the venom sang through him.