Read an Excerpt
The bulb Samantha Mycroft was trying to replace was just above her reach. She swore softlyand then felt guilty.
It was Christmas Eve. One was not supposed to swear on Christmas Eve. In the front yard, next to the tall and beautiful pine she was trying to decorate, the motion-activated Santa was singing in Bing Crosby's voice, cheerfully telling the story of the Little Drummer Boy.
She should not be cursing on Christmas Eve, she thought again.
But, she thought, pausing to look at the sky, this was a most unusual Christmas Eve.
It was dark. Darkness was to be expected at night, of course.
But the darkness had started coming earlier and earlier. At first it had been natural, as fall had come to Salem. But four in the afternoon had become two. And where at first the sun had come out at six in the morning, six had become seven. Then eight. Then nine.
Finally there had been just an hour of light at midafternoon, and today, Christmas Eve, she wondered if even that hour would come, because it had gone from being one hour to fifty minutes, then forty, then thirty .
They kept the Christmas lights on 24/7, which, Sa-mantha was convinced, was why her Never Burn Out! Christmas lights were burning out.
She managed to reach the offending bulb and change it, and then, from her perch atop the ladder, looked up at the sky again.
The news, of course, was filled with the phenomenon. It was centered on Salem, but it had begun spreadingthough to a lesser degreesouth toward Boston and north toward the Gloucester area. None of the rest of the country was any darker than it normally was at this time of year. Naturally, scientists and meteorologists were having a field day with the situation. They all had theories that explained what was going on, from the extremely esoteric to a strange type of sun flare. How a flare could cause such darkness, Sam didn't know.
It didn't matter.
Their theories were all wrong; she knew that much. Whatever was going on in Salem was being caused by a miscreant in the Otherworld.
"Hey! Pretty lights!"
She heard the deep voice and for a moment, she froze. She knew that voice, though she hadn't heard it in years. It was rich and fluid; it had made her laugh.
And its absence from her life had, once upon a time, made her cry.
She turned quickly, then remembered that she was on a ladder and grasped hold of it, absolutely determined that she wouldn't humiliate herself by falling off and landing at his feet.
With all the control she could muster, she turned regally to look down.
Maybe she was imagining that it was him . He had disappeared on a Christmas Eve, exactly two years ago now.
She'd imagined nothing.
There he was. Daniel Riverton in the flesh.
As if on cue, the stupid Santa began singing "I'll Be Home for Christmas."
Daniel was tall and appeared lean, but she knew from experience that his shoulders were broad, his chest and arms muscled and honed, and he could move with incredible grace, speed and agility. He was the epitome of "tall, dark and handsome."
Because Daniel was a vampire. And an exceptional one.
He was striking as only a vampire could be; his hair was coal dark and his eyes were that burning, intense hazel often seen among his kind. When he was passionate or angry, the hazel burned with a golden light that seemed more intense than the sun. He looked up at her now, those eyes of his enigmatic, a slight smile curving his lips.
Leave it to Daniel to come back smiling. She wanted to smack himsmack that smile from his face.
And she also wanted to touch him, feel his arms around her again, look up at him and smile and laugh because they were a duo, soul mates.
Yeah, so much for that.
"How are you, Sam?" he asked softly.
"Fine. What are you doing back in Salem?" she demanded curtly.
It would have been nice if he'd said something like I tried to survive without you but I couldn't. I had to come back to Salem. I don't care about rules or regulations or if we're damned for all time. I can't live without you.
"I was called back," he told her.
"Oh?" she demanded. She was the Salem Keeper of the Vampires. If anyone had been called back, she should have known about it.
"My father," he explained.
His father. Great. His father, who hadn't approved of a vampire dating a vampire Keeper. Her parents hadn't approved, either, of course. But they had kept their disapproval fairly quiet, telling her that she had to make her own decisions about life.
She shouldn't have had to take on the Keeper role for years, but the International Council had been formed and her parentshaving managed the area exceptionally well since their arrival in response to the insanity of the witch trialshad been called to be part of that council. That left her generation, the younger generation, to take on their responsibilities far too soon.
Justin Riverton, Daniel's father, was a pillar of the community. Or had been. Like her parents, he was now serving on the International Council. Everything, all those departures, had happened at around the same time. Daniel, fresh out of law school, had been swept up in the whole council thing, and now, while he didn't sit on the council, he worked for it, going from place to place to settle vampire affairs whenever trouble arose and no local Keeper was at hand.
But the real issue was the age-old taboo against Keepers having relationships with their charges.
That was changing now in many placesnewer places than Salem, where the old ways died very slowly.
She knew that everyone had considered what she and Daniel shared to be nothing but a flinga silly school thing that would end. They were both excellent students, bright and responsible from an early age. When it was time for them to end it, they would end it.
Despite that prevailing belief, Sam was pretty sure that both her parents and Daniel's had conspired to keep them apart. And, she was forced to admit, her attitude might have had something to do with it. Maybe she'd pushed too hard in her desire for some kind of passionate declaration from him. She'd wanted him to tell her that what they had was too unique, too incredible too passionate for him to turn his back on her and leave.
So the fact that he was here now was doubly galling. Not only was she embarrassed not to know he was on the way, his presence meant that the council believed she couldn't keep her affairs, her responsibilities as a Keeperher chargesin order. That what was happening here was somehow her fault.
Which was ridiculous. Vampires might be exceptionally fond of darkness, but they were not known to have any special powers to create it.
"Well. Nice to see you," she said. There was no reason for her to remain on the laddershe'd changed the bulb. If she didn't come down, she would look like a coward.
Sam was the oldest of the new generation of Keepers now in charge of Salem's Otherworld. It wasn't an actual title or position, but with all the changes that had taken place, she was more or less the "Keeper of the Keepers." She was supposed to be calm, cool, stoicwise at all times. Looking like a cowardor appearing unable to handle Daniel's sudden reappearance in Salem on Christmas Evejust wouldn't do.
She willed her hands not to shake as she started to descend. Maybe that wasn't such a great plan. She was tall, nearly six feet. But Daniel, though only about six-three, seemed to tower over her. And he was standing way too close to the foot of the ladder. He might have moved to give her a little more personal space, but he didn't.
"Uh, good to see you, but I have things to do, so ?" she said.
He smiledwell aware that he was blocking her path back to the house. "It's nice to see you, too. I wanted you to know that, and that I was back in town. I guess we both have things to do."
"Thanks. Now if you don't mind, you're blocking my way into my house," she told him.
Ignoring her, he asked, "Still the best tour guide in the city?"
"You know I love my heritage," she told him.
He grinned and said in a very proper tour guide voice, "In the winter of 1623, a fishing village was established by the Dorchester Company on the shores of Cape Ann. The settlers struggled with the windy, stormy, rock-strewn area, and then a man named Roger Conant led a group to this fertile spot at the mouth of the Naum-keag River. At first they called it Naumkeag, the native word for 'fishing place.' And then they chose Salem, for shalom, meaning 'peace.'" He shrugged. "Well, after so many years of peaceyears of infamy, toonow we have this. This darkness."
"Is it dark?" Sam asked, her voice dripping sarcasm. "I hadn't noticed."
He stared at her. "I know that you've noticed."
"Good. Then you don't need to be concerned."
"It's most likely not a vampire matter," he said.
"Which is greatyou'll be even less necessary."
"I never wanted us to be hateful toward each other," he said quietly.
Good old Daniel. Always controlled. She wanted him to be hatefulto rage against the powers and circumstances that had separated them. Apparently she wasn't going to get her wish.
"I'm not being hateful," she said with a shrug. "That would require me to actually feel something about you. Please, don't be concerned on that accountI do not hate you. Frankly, and not to be rude, I really don't think about you at all."
What a lie! She missed him every day of her life. Every single day she hurt, trying to figure out exactly what happened, how it had happened.
"Actually," he said. "That was a smidgen rude."
"I'm sorry. I'm just busy. Seriously, if you don't mind, I have things to do."
He stepped aside. "I'm staying down the street," he said.
The Riverton house had sat empty now for some time, ever since Daniel's parents had joined the council and he had followed, leaving her behind.
"How nice that you still have the house," she said.
He smiled, looking down at her. It was that slow, easy, somehow rakish smile that he had always given her. There was something in that smile that seemed to speak of a unique, sensual relationship, of things shared that were incredibly special and wonderful. She saw all that and more in the smile that he gave her .
Herand probably dozens of others.
"Happy Christmas Eve," he told her.
"Thanks. You, too."
"I'll see you soon."
"At your party, of course. I got the invitation. I remember your family's Christmas partiesI've missed them."
How the hell had he gotten an invitation?
Because he was on the damned mailing list. The e-vites had gone out automatically.
Greatjust great. He'd not only walked back in on her todayshe would see him again tonight.
Sam managed to escape him and hurried along the path to the house, willing herself not to trip. It was a cold winter. Plenty of snow had fallen already, snow too easily turned to ice. She would not embarrass herself in front of him by slipping on the ice and landing flat on her backside.
As he walked away, the stupid Santa began singing again: "I'm dreaming of a white Christmas."
She somehow managed to refrain from yelling at it.
Forget Daniel Riverton, she told herself. She would do exactly that.
She had to.
Okay, just take a minute, she told herself. Take a minute; take a deep breath. Stop shaking. They had been so crazily, ridiculously in love. They'd spent all their time together. And once they'd gone away to college, they'd managed to slip away on regular "excursions," once just to Boston, once to New York City and one glorious time to England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. There was nothing she hadn't loved about them together, sleeping together, waking together, shivering through horror movies, traveling and meeting interesting people along the way.
Even then, though, there were Others who had lifted their brows in disapproval.
What did they know? Mixed marriages were springing up everywhere.
She gave herself a firm mental shake; she was doing just fine. She was respectedshe knew that most in the Other community gave her a thumbs-up. People still kept a wary eye on her less experienced cousins, but she loved them and knew that they would be fine, tooeven June, who tried hard to appear strong, though she still felt overwhelmed by her Keeper role.
Sam made a note in her mind to make sure that the walkway was free of ice by this evening. She couldn't have any eighty-year-oldshuman or Othercrashing down and breaking a hip.
Tonight was traditionally a huge night for the Mycroft family and for the local Other communityand for those who knew about it and embraced it.
Salem was, in Sam's opinion, an exceptionally fine community, and she felt privileged to be a Keeper here. Yes, at one time the Puritans had persecuted and executed poor human beings who were no more witches than they were angels. But that dark past had ultimately enlightened future generations. Now the city was filled with people of every religion, including the Wiccanspopularly if inaccurately identified as witcheswhose presence had done so much to enhance the commercial value of what was now a tourist mecca. Salem was also home to many different Others, from vampires and werewolves to leprechauns, gnomes, selkies and more.
Every Christmas Evefor centuries nowthe Mycroft family had hosted a party celebrating faith, life, belief and love. The guests were of many faiths and many speciesthe requirement for the human guests, of course, was that they were among the few who knew about the Other community and respected its code of silence.
The world had come a long way from the days of the Salem witch trialsbut not far enough. Knowing that your next-door neighbor was a vampire wouldn't sit well with those who pictured vampires only as vicious bloodsuckers. They could never comprehend that the average, modern-day vampire was an upstanding member of the communityjust one who had to survive on a great deal of slaughterhouse blood. Thankfully, due to the council and the widespread alliances that had been formed over the years, that commodity was readily available as long as you knew where to shop.
The minute she got inside, Sam leaned against the door and exhaled.
It was going to be a trying day and an even more difficult night, and she resented the hell out of that. Ever since she had been a small child, she had loved the Christmas season. But this year
There was the darkness. And the suggestion that it might be caused by a vampire, and that she was failing in her duties as Keeper of the Vampires.
Daniel was back.
"Think of him as no more than a pesky fly that needs to be swatted," she said aloud.
But even so, there were other problems. Her cousins were distracted, the cousins who should have been helping her.