She’s a temptation he’s willing to risk everything for.
Desperate is an understatement for the path Anya’s life is on. A human trapped in a simmering war between witches and vampires, she will do anything to survive. Blackmailing the Coven leader seemed like a good plan. Then she falls at the feet of Nico Berkano, head of the vampire nest, and she wonders if sleeping with the enemy isn’t a more pleasurable option.
With the human population dwindling, vampires are in danger of starving, and the only solution Nico sees is to form a truce with the witches. Anya’s unexpected arrival at a secret meeting between himself and the Grand Coven Mistress tests the tentative trust between vampires and witches, particularly when Nico claims Anya as his mate.
Anya is a human complication he doesn’t need, one his brother thinks he should kill, but he’s willing to risk everything for a taste of her.
The race for sovereignty is on. In a rift-shattered world, witches, humans, and the Berkano vampires face devastating consequences as they confront eternal isolation. With fewer resources to survive on, these factions must devise a way to coexist with one another…or battle for the power to rule as they please.
Uneasy alliances, dwindling reserves, and an unquenchable thirst for control leave humans, witches, and vampires in a perilous stalemate. But if a new world order can’t be established, the wars among the races will tear what’s left of the world apart.
Not blood. Not blood.
Anya squeezed her eyes shut, mentally repeating the mantra even as the image of the growing spot on her ceiling lingered behind her eyelids.
She’d almost missed it among the dozen other spots staining the once-white plaster surface. But that afternoon, she spent long enough staring at it to finally discern the darker color, indicating it was fresh and definitely not just water.
She wanted to dismiss the red tint; refuse to acknowledge the possibility it was blood. The building was off limits to vampires. Warded by not only Coven magic, but also by the natural repellents the residents set up. A vampire intrusion would have been unlikely and anything else happening upstairs—whether witch or human instigated—was not her concern.
But if it was blood—human blood—she needed to deal with it before a vamp took the risk of investigating. And despite her desire to remain ignorant, she just wasn’t stupid enough to take the chance.
With a groan, she rolled from the couch, grabbed her jacket from the hook by the front door and shrugged it on, then went to the sole window in the small apartment. Sliding it open, she climbed out on to the fire escape, careful to avoid disturbing the new wards she’d laid the previous night.
Crouched behind the railing, she surveyed the alley. From there, she could make out the old onion-domed buildings lining the west side of the city. The vamp side.
A few years ago, they’d managed to start the solar power plant back up, though only generating enough for their buildings. Witches controlled the east side of the city with magic and preferred a more pagan approach, using fires and vibrant flames of blue magic to light their buildings. Humans were stuck in the middle, too wary of attracting attention to light anything up. They dwelled in the darkness that had once been sanctuary to the vampires and witches who now controlled the division.
With no sign of vamps, she carefully made her way up the steps to the next level of the complex. The rusted metal creaked beneath Anya’s weight. She hesitated, but the frigid air seeping through her clothes pushed her on.
The neighbor upstairs had made so many glaring mistakes, practically daring the vamps to attack, she was amazed they’d survived so long. Wooden boards nailed across the window haphazardly left wide gaps so any blood sucker around could see in. Wards were carved into the windowsill, but nowhere deep enough to contain the amount of clove and rosemary needed to seal the ward and keep the vamps from entering.
Despite the neighbor’s poor preparation, Anya didn’t consider the possibility of any Berkano vamps being in there. They knew better than to leave a mess, particularly one that soaked through the carpet and floorboards.
The vamps living on the fringe of society, the feral ones who killed to feed, although messy eaters, would never leave that much blood behind. She’d witnessed more than a few ferals licking drops of blood from the ground.
She squatted outside the window and listened for any sound that might indicate someone, or something, was still inside. A minute ticked by, and she shivered as the growing darkness sucked away what little warmth the sun gave. One hundred eighty-two days of freezing temps and wickedly bitter winds was too many, one hundred eighty-one too many.
Although, when winter broke within the next day, she’d be begging for the cold again as suffocating heat swept across the division.
It was a heat inflicted by the Rift that had devasted the globe and isolated their small pocket of Russia from everyone else. As the Rift took hold outside the barrier, the year had been split into two seasons—deep, bitter winters every Russian expected, and a scorching hot summer that left the land dry and dusty like the deserts shed seen pictures of in her mother’s books. The only green areas were in the Gulag where witches maintained a magical sector for food production.
Anya shivered, and she shifted for one last survey of the alleyway. With no one in sight and no sounds coming from inside the apartment, she stood, stepped as far back as the fire escape landing would allow, then kicked the loose boards. They caved in easily, clattering to the floor.
She snaked between the remaining slats and gagged as the smell hit her. For the first time in months, she was thankful for the freezing temperatures outside. If it had happened in the heat of the summer, the stench would have permeated the entire building within hours. Although with summer coming in hours, it was going to be an unavailable issue.
The apartment was larger than her single room and she wondered yet again about the person’s level of stupidity. A bigger place meant more space to defend. She crept across the empty living room and gently pressed on a door that would lead to the space above her couch. The hinges creaked, and she shook her head at yet another sign this person had been inviting trouble.
The sight of a dead dog hooked to a blood bag system that had obviously been draining the poor creature wasn’t what she expected, but it did give her a measure of relief. The smell of dog blood might attract feral vamps, but in the city, they were few in number.
Leaving the dog lying in its blood didn’t sit well with Anya, especially since the blood that had found its way to the floor would continue seeping through to her ceiling, but she knew better than to mess with other people’s things, and definitely not when it looked like it was part of witchcraft. Her neighbor would be back, and if they were willing to go this far, she didn’t doubt they’d go looking for anyone who interfered.
Backing out of the room, she tiptoed to the window and scrambled between the wooden boards. Giving her hands a brisk rub, she made her way back to her apartment.
Once inside, she pushed aside the curtain shielding the closet contents from view and dragged out the step stool and a pail. Then she set to work bleaching the offending mark from the ceiling, scrubbing in silence, other than the occasional curse word as the bleach solution dripped onto the carpet below. She might have used a sheet to protect it, but years of wear and tear had left it in a state beyond any care. Hopefully, the people upstairs would be back before the blood did any more damage and she had to waste even more time cleaning it up.
Satisfied she’d banished any scent of blood from her apartment, she stashed the cleaning supplies back in the closet and washed her hands. Thanks to her idiot neighbor, she was running late for work.
Compared to the apartment above hers, her place looked as if it belonged to a witch. There were no boards blocking the window in vain, no heavy curtains that did nothing but provide cover for someone already inside. The only clue a human resided there was the deep grooves laced with herbs and spices on the windowsill and at the two doorways. Something even a witch would put up to keep unwanted vamps from attempting a visit.
Anya heated a pot of water on the stove, added a drop of sage oil into it, then draped a towel over her head. She leaned over the warming water and let the steam clear her nostrils of the vile smell that lingered in her sense memory. Once the smell was gone, she used the water to take a sponge bath.
When she was finished, she poured the remaining water on the row of plants she had sitting beside the window. Then there was only one thing left to do. She headed to the kitchen and opened the small fridge.
She pulled out a jug and unscrewed the cap but was distracted by a loud thump that came from the hallway. She cocked her head to the side, listening for the telltale sounds that a vamp might have made it into the building. Instead, there was another thump and the faint sound of someone calling her name.
Her shoulders slumped as she placed the jug on the counter and went to the door. She opened it and caught the tall woman who tumbled inside. Anyone other than Yoni, Anya would have simply shoved them back out, but there was something so pathetic about the girl.
“Babe, knew you’d be here,” Yoni said, her words slurring as she attempted to hug Anya.
“I’m actually getting ready for work.” Anya pulled Yoni’s arm over her shoulder, holding her upright, not an easy feat considering Yoni was a good four inches taller and possessed a much fuller figured.
She lugged the woman across the hall, propping her against the wall while she fished the key from Yoni’s pocket. Once the door was unlocked, she carted Yoni to the sagging couch which doubled as a bed, dropping her not so gently onto the well-worn cushions.
“You should come with me to the club next time,” Yoni suggested, pushing her mass of light brown curls out of her face.
“I like working.” Anya lifted one of Yoni’s feet and removed the shoe, then did the same with the other.
“No more work for you. Come to the club. Sergei will find you a master.” Yoni lifted a hand and swatted at Anya’s hair. “You find someone to take care of you. Just like Sergei takes care of me.”
“Yeah. I can see what a fine job he’s doing.” Anya rolled her eyes and gave Yoni a gentle shove so she fell onto her back. “I have no interest in going to The Bleeding Spot or in being a blood doll.”
Yoni scowled at the harsh term, but Anya wasn’t about to apologize. As much as she might deny it, Yoni was nothing more than a walking blood bank Sergei could screw while he fed.
“It is better than hiding in the shadows, living in constant fear.”
Anya snorted. As if she would feel anything other than fear while a vampire fed on her.
“I’ll come visit tomorrow,” she said and left the younger woman behind.
Back in her apartment, Anya shut the door and pressed her back to it. It was hard to see Yoni stumbling in like that every few days, but it was the life she chose. She found it easier to submit to Sergei’s blood lust than live in fear that a feral vamp would take the choice from her and leave her dead.
Anya had been tempted to visit the club once. The threat of starvation and the winter solstice had driven her to the doors of the place, but she’d hesitated, and that one moment saved her life.
She’d heard the stories of when only humans walked the Earth. Behind the facade, though, a hidden world of witches and vampires had existed, both greedy for life out of the shadows. For the vampires that meant finding a cure for their hunger for blood, something the witches professed to be able to produce. Instead, the Coven’s failed spell created the Rift. And the human world came to an end. Only a thin barrier of magic kept the fluctuating energy forces from consuming every living thing in its path.
The Omsk Division had been spared much of the devasting damage inflicted upon the other divisions, though that was a quarter century ago. Before the full changes the Rift brought to their region took hold, completely cutting them off from the rest of the world. Before the Berkano vampires declared war on the witches.
There was little hope for surviving humans. Either they sacrificed themselves to the vamps and let themselves be sucked dry, or they gave themselves over to the witches who put them to work in the Gula and drained their auras, leaving them empty shells.
For Anya, the day she stood outside The Bleeding Spot looking for a chance to survive had changed her. She realized then how desperate she was, and how desperate she’d never be again.
Rolling her shoulders, she pushed away from the door and went back to the kitchen. She had a job to do.
She picked up the jug, frowning as she saw how little was left. It wasn’t enough, but it would have to do. She gulped down the contents then slammed the container back on the counter. Grimacing at the metallic taste as the thick liquid coated her mouth, she quickly filled a glass with water and took a swig, letting it swish around her mouth before swallowing it.
Finished with her drink, Anya strode to the door and did a quick check that she had everything she needed. Her keys were in her pocket, blades in her boot and sleeves, and a pack of rosemary and clove tucked into her bra. The horrible taste in her mouth lingered, and she ran her fingers over her lips.
She looked at her hand and cringed at the vivid red stain on her fingertip.
She popped her finger in her mouth and sucked the drop of liquid off, swallowing convulsively as she tried not to gag.
She fucking hated witch blood.