Unsettled by the passionate romance between his comrade Win and their new employee Pablo, Tole hopes to quell his restless spirit by spending a night in the woodsy Interzone. He’s joined unexpectedly by a handsome vampire acquaintance, Ridley Barron, and the two men begin to succumb to a longstanding attraction. But their cozy campfire interlude is interrupted by a shrieking menace that swoops from the sky.
Regenerie’s mismatched wonder-workers must pull together to identify and neutralize this dire Interzone threat. But when Ridley himself is kidnapped, their challenge becomes personal and takes on added horror and urgency.
Dealing with the elusive attacker turns into a game of clever stratagems and careful timing. Trekking through the Interzone, confronting paranormal creatures, and infiltrating a hostile metroplex will test the Coven’s mettle . . . and prove to be Tole’s introduction to the unique demands of loyalty and love.
As soon as he found one, he set his flask of bourbon on the ground, took off his cape, and went around gathering kindling and larger pieces of fallen wood. Carefully heaping the twigs and branches into a wickery tent, he stood back and smiled. Damned if building a campfire—or bonfire or any kind of fire, for that matter—didn’t saturate him with satisfaction. Oh, that demonic DNA.
Holding one hand over the pile of wood, he snapped his fingers, chuckling as the structure ignited.
"That is really hokey. Pissing on it would’ve been more original."
Tole spun around so fast, he nearly fell into his beloved fire. A tall, dapper man stood behind him. Not as tall as he—Tole was nearly six-foot-five—but not that much shorter, either. He peered at the face. "Ridley?"
The man looked bewildered. "Tole?"
"Ridley." Tole released his tension on a long exhalation. "Can’t you sons-of-bitches ever announce your arrival?"
The vampire smiled. "That would be rather counterproductive, wouldn’t you agree?"
"Just don’t try to bite me. I’m not in the mood."
"I wouldn’t dream of it. Unless you offered yourself."
"Seems you won’t be dreaming of it, then." Tole bent over and grabbed his flask off the ground. "Haven’t seen you around for a while. Did you leave the area?"
Ridley shoved his hands into his coat pockets. "I spent almost four months in Trieste, dealing with an estate settlement. I got back three weeks ago."
Tole’s gaze slid down Ridley’s trim body and back to his face. "I didn’t recognize you at first. You’ve changed."
Different was an understatement. The vamp’s previously long, pitch-black hair had been cut and styled into soft layers. A small hank of it threatened to drop over his forehead. Upturned commas of clipped hair grazed the tops of his ears. He wore a dark all-weather coat; beneath that, a businessman’s shirt in some pale color and dress pants with razor-edge creases. The shirt was open at the collar. His face was clean-shaven, and he smelled wonderful—like cedar, with an underlying note of a more exotic scent.
Tole caught a glimpse of a chain around his neck from which a small, inscribed disc dangled. It looked like an amulet, crafted from white gold or platinum. Then Tole remembered that’s indeed what it was. Ridley had suffered a nasty burn last fall while hooking up with some strange woman here in the Interzone. Win had designed the charm and another Alterationist, skilled in the construction of magical jewelry, had made it.
Although it was strictly for protection and not for ornamentation, the silvery necklace perfectly complemented the dark fan of chest hair in which it nestled. The hair wasn’t thick, just noticeable enough to create a masculine signature.
Truth was, Ridley looked damned good all around. A bit like a junior executive, maybe, but a sexy one. He’d always been a striking creature. Now, he was striking in a different way.
"If you’d been around as long as I have," Ridley said, "you’d get sick of seeing yourself, too. I need to change once in a while just to be able to keep living with me."
"Actually, I think you look great."
Ridley’s eyes glimmered. They were nearly as dark as his hair. The lids, perennially lowered like stuck awnings, hung just at the tops of his irises, giving him a drowsy look even when his gaze shone like obsidian.
"Thank you," he said. "And ditto."
Tole wasn’t used to compliments. "You’re not schmoozing me to get a drink, are you?"
"Only if it’s from that flask you’re holding. What’s in it?"
Unscrewing the cap, Tole indulged in a long swallow that set a flash-fire inside his body. He offered the flask to his uninvited companion, who took it and tilted it to his lips. The sight transfixed Tole. He saw no fangs in Ridley’s mouth. He only saw a handsome man’s lips closing over the opening of a bottle.
The sight kindled a restless warmth that slithered through his lower abdomen.
"You seem different, too," Ridley said. "Must be the hair."
"All I did was let it grow out." Self-consciously, Tole pulled his hair back. It was just past shoulder-length now, with waves he’d never noticed when it was short.
Ridley continued eyeing it. "Very nice. Much more touchable. Before, you looked like a mad cactus. Are you going to keep the blue streaks in?"
"I don’t have much choice," Tole said, "unless I dye the whole mess. The colors are natural." Deep gold with blue highlights. Shit. Sometimes, when Tole caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror, he felt like a school mascot.
"Natural," Ridley repeated. His gaze sharpened into scrutiny. "What are the three of you, anyway? As soon as I tasted Win’s blood, I could tell he wasn’t a mere human. And now you, with your unnaturally natural-blue hair."
The question made Tole’s heart jump to his throat. "I’m really not at liberty to discuss that."
Tole lowered himself to the ground, where he sat with forearms resting on his upraised knees. He stared into the fire. If he kept his wits about him, he could make it burn, slowly and evenly, all night.
Ridley hadn’t moved. At least, Tole didn’t think he had. One could never tell with vampires. They were stealthy buggers, as swift and silent as an airborne contagion. Unsettled, Tole glanced over his shoulder.
Ridley was still there. He, too, gazed into the flames. "The wood isn’t dwindling."
"If you’re going to hang around," Tole said, "at least sit down. I’m not crazy about having an Otherbeing hovering at my back."
Ridley hesitated, then sank to the ground and stretched his legs out in front of him. He crossed his ankles and pulled his coat around his lap.
Tole slid him a glance. He really was a suave bastard, darkly alluring. Very smart, too. His sense of humor, on the acerbic side, was similar to Tole’s.
The firelight looked good on his face.