From the Publisher
"Dark and sinfully sexy...I'm totally addicted."
-New York Times bestselling author Cherry Adair on Bonded by Blood
"Plenty of scintillating passion and character drama make this story an entertaining pleasure!"
--RT Book Reviews on Bonded by Blood
Read an Excerpt
When she saw the number of vehicles parked in the second driveway on the left, Arianna Wells tensed and almost turned her car around. She hated having an audience for these things. With her eyes forward, she drove past the house, then a dozen others in the neighborhood, and parked the old Cadillac under a streetlight around the corner. Out of habit, she scraped the wheel rims against the curb. Her father had loved this car and was so proud of himself when he gave it to her for her sixteenth birthday. Problem was, she'd been nineteen at the time and he'd mixed up her birthday with one of his many ex-girlfriends. Adding a new scratch when she was frustrated or pissed off always made her feel better. She shoved the transmission into Park and it lurched into a rough idle.
She stretched her arm over the seat and peered out the back windshield. Maybe that wasn't the right place. All the houses had the same mirror-image design, painted one of three colors with identical rows of box hedges lining the walkways. Roads to the left and right led to similar cul-de-sacs. Everything was confusingly similar. It'd be easy to turn down the wrong street and knock on the wrong door.
She pulled the address from the front pocket of her jeans and realized she still needed to change her shoes. She'd gone in to work today for an unscheduled meeting and hadn't thought about tonight until she was already at the office. Hopefully, she had a spare pair of boots in the trunk. If they went to the site of the disappearance, traipsing through wet bushes in flip-flops would really suck. From what she'd learned about getting to the Devil's Backbone, even wearing hiking boots, it wouldn't be easy.
She opened the folded scrap of paper: 4112 Maple Grove Avenue.
Yep, that was the right house. The one with all the cars.
She crumpled the scrap into a ball and threw it on the seat. Thanks to rush-hour traffic in Seattle, it had taken an extra hour to get here and she really didn't want to reschedule. The hems of her jeans were damp from running into the office and she was still chilled. She supposed she could've parked in her company's garage today, thus avoiding the rain and the wet sidewalks, but she didn't have a pass and paying forty bucks for a two-hour meeting was just wrong. She could have asked Carter, one of her coworkers, to hack into their building's property-management company and print her a parking pass, but unlike him she had principles. Although on a day like today, she wished she didn't.
She grabbed her phone, hit Redial, and a young man answered on the first ring.
"Look, Blake," she said, not bothering to hide her irritation. "I told you I don't do this with a bunch of people around."
"Is this Icy Shadows?"
He only knew her by her screen name and Arianna preferred to keep it that way.
"Yes, and don't tell me your mom is hosting her book club."
She heard the low murmur of male voices, a muffled curse, and she was pretty sure someone in the room with Blake said, "Do you see her yet?"
Good thing she'd parked around the corner.
"It's just me and the guys who were with me that night. That's all. I figured you'd want to talk to them, too."
What part of "I want to conduct this interview alone" didn't he understand?
Before agreeing to meet with him, she'd thoroughly checked out Blake's background, as she did with everyone she interviewed in person. He was a seventeen-year-old honor student at Cascadia High School, on the varsity tennis team, vice president of the French club. In a write-up in the local paper about some community service project, his marketing teacher had called him a leader.
Using her internet-sleuthing abilitiessome people would call it stalking, but she preferred to call it due diligenceshe'd tracked his movements online. She found his social-media pages, followed him to the few blogs he'd read, hers being the only one that didn't involve music, and she'd looked at dozens of pictures and videos. The few times he'd posted on her blog, he'd been respectful and articulate. The guy was who he said he wasa decent kid with a very interesting story that she was dying to hear in person.
But she knew nothing about his friends and she had her rules.
"We'll have to do this another time, then. Goodbye"
"Wait. Wait. I'm really sorry, but they really want to meet the Icy Shadows from Paranormalish."
"Sorry. I'm shy." Not really. Although she did hate crowds, she guarded her online identity with the finesse of someone navigating a minefield. Each movement, each next click could be disastrous.
If Xtark Software found out how she spent her free time, that she lied on her employment application about having a blog, she'd lose her job. The game company was anal when it came to its employees' use of social media, requiring everyone to turn over their computer passwords so company security officials could monitor their online activities. They worried about employees sharing too much and other companies stealing their proprietary secretsas if someone in the graphics department would know anything about software design. But a blog run by any employee was a huge no-no. As far as she was concerned, however, it was no one's business but her own, and she preferred to keep it that way.
And then there was that business with her ex. When he'd found out about her blog, it had turned her life upside down.
She'd learned long ago that people thought her interest in unexplained phenomena was weird
crazy, even. Sitting on a cold metal chair at the Fremont area police precinct as a five-year-old, having no one believe her had taught her that. They'd tried to explain that shadows don't just come alive and kidnap people; a real person took her mother. They'd given her a stuffed animal to holdComfy Carl, they called him. She could still picture the bear with crisscrossed threads for eyes that smelled as if it'd spent months in the damp trunk of a patrol car. But she knew what she'd seen and a toy wasn't about to convince her otherwise.
At a young age, Arianna figured out pretty quickly that if she wanted to be taken seriously and keep a roof over her head, she'd better keep her interests to herself. The blog was her way of exploring topics she couldn't discuss out loud.
No, she couldn't risk Blake's friends finding out anything about her. It could show up later online somewhere, making it easier for Xtark to discover what she was doing. Conducting these sorts of things one-on-one lessened the chances of that happening.
"Okay, okay," Blake said. "I'll make them leave."
Arianna paused, her hand on the ignition, still not convinced she wanted to chance it.
"Pleeease?" His voice cracked midstream and he suddenly sounded younger, more vulnerable.
She knew her readers were dying to hear what happened that night at the Devil's Backbone, complete with pictures and videos. Ever since Blake posted that the captain of the football team never came back after visiting the site and a watered-down version hit the news outlets, her blog readers had been pestering her to interview him. Many of them had never seen pictures of the site of the old sanitarium, which had burned to the ground at the turn of the century. Situated on private property, it was rumored to be haunted, and kids snuck in late at night to party there. Blake claimed the missing boy had been with them when they visited the site that night. He'd posted on her blog that he was too scared to go with them, so he waited in the car. All of the kids returned except for one. Sure, they could've been drinking, but given the fact that it happened at the Devil's Backbone it was enough to pique her interest.
"A guy named George from another website has been emailing me, wanting to know what happened, but I'd rather talk to you."
She winced. "George from OSPRA?" That meant he'd been reading her blog.
The Olympic Society for Paranormal Research and Analysis had been relentlessly pursuing her since she started blogging, pressuring her to join their organization of craziesvampire hunters, ghost hunters and alien-invasion enthusiasts. After she'd repeatedly turned them down and inadvertently scooped them on a few investigations, they got pissed off and someone tried hacking into her website. If it hadn't been for Carter, who beefed up her security settings, they'd have succeeded.
"Yeah, I think so."
Bastards. That was it. "Okay. I'll be there in fifteen minutes. But if even one of those cars is still parked out front, the interview is canceled. For good. Understand?"
Blake lowered his voice. "Is there any way my younger brother can stay? He was one of the guys with us that night, too, and has a totally different story than I do."
Did no one listen anymore? Was the spoken word that hard to understand? She let out an exasperated sigh and picked at a tear in the vinyl upholstery.
Interviewing one of the others who was there would give a good perspective to the articlemake it even more compelling. George wouldn't be able to compete with that.
Blake was quiet on the other end of the line, waiting for her answer. She could almost hear his silent plea for help. Then it dawned on her. Maybe he was seeking validation from her so that his friends would know he wasn't making up the story. That all of this wasn't just a twisted joke or the product of an overactive imagination. Clearly, he had experienced something but no one believed him. A familiar pang tugged at her heart. She knew how it felt to witness something that wasn't possible. To be given a stuffed animal and a pat on the head because no one could figure out how to make you feel better.
She recalled the disapproving looks her great-aunt and -uncle had given her as they'd lamented that this preoccupation of hers was too deeply rooted in the satanic. After a few months, they'd given up and sent her to live with a string of foster families.
"Fine. Your brother can stay. But if I come back and get any inkling, any strange or nagging feeling that you lied to me, and your friends aren't gone"
"I promise," he said hastily. "Just me and my brother."
"Okay. Fifteen minutes."
Before the line went dead, she heard him yelling at his friends to leave.