Miranda Grey is an up-and-coming Austin musician whose uncontrolled psychic gift drives her to the edge of insanity…and then into the Shadow World, a society of vampires led by the enigmatic Prime David Solomon. Miranda finds herself entangled in the web of vampire politics and with the help of David and his Second-in-Command Faith transforms from a broken shell of a woman to a warrior Queen destined to change the world.
Shadowflame, the second book of the Shadow World series, follows Miranda’s journey as the new Queen, picking up not long after the first book, Queen of Shadows, left off.
Three Little … Vampires
The Sunset Valley Autumn Carnival was in full swing when the vampires arrived.
The parking lot of the local high school football stadium had been transformed into a midway. The rich smell of funnel cake frying and the reek of the petting zoo filled the air, as did the shouts of children on the Ferris wheel. The cacophony made it an ideal place to hide…
…unless the Queen was after you.
Miranda’s boots thudded on the asphalt in a rhythm that almost perfectly accompanied the riotous calliope music from the merry-go-round. She slipped easily among the families of humans who were milling around in front of the rides and games, her senses on high alert, sweeping the area for the telltale energy of her own kind.
She halted in the middle of the carnival and spoke into the communicator on her wrist. “Report!”
Her Second-in-Command replied, “They split up as soon as they reached the crowd. We’re tracking them now—one headed toward the petting zoo, the other two into the midway.”
“I’m right by the petting zoo. I’ll take the first one.” Miranda veered off toward the left, where an area had been set aside and surrounded by a fence of hay bales to keep a handful of shaggy goats, a pair of bored donkeys, and a single grouchy-looking emu away from the noise. A few children were in the enclosure offering the goats paper cups of dried corn.
Miranda bypassed them entirely and vaulted over the far wall, landing in the empty area between the carnival’s edge and the rows of cars. There were tall stacks of hay bales back here too, more than big enough to hide behind.
She paused and closed her eyes, listening, moving her concentration away from the crowd. She reached into her coat and pulled out a stake.
“Come out, come out,” she said into the darkness. “Make this easier on yourself.”
The Queen extended her senses, using her empathic gift to look for…there.
Behind one of the haystacks she could sense fear.
She moved around it slowly, making no sound, staying downwind to help keep him from scenting her. She reached toward him with her gift, nudging his level of terror up slowly until he was virtually paralyzed with panic. She tried not to push too hard—if she scared him too badly he’d bolt, and if he ran off into the parking lot he’d be much harder to hunt down. She didn’t want to waste any more time on this one than she had to. She had other work to do tonight.
You’re so scared. You don’t want to die. You want to run. You want to run to the left—
He let out a cry of fear and burst from the side of the haystack, scrambling to get his feet under him.
The stake cartwheeled through the air and slammed into his back. He hit the ground in a sprawl and didn’t move again.
“Get a retrieval team to these coordinates,” Miranda told her Second. “Where’s the next one?”
“Somewhere in the funhouse. Wood building, past the Ferris wheel. The carnival organizers said they didn’t open it because it wasn’t finished in time, so there’s no crowd. The Prime is already there.”
“I’m going to help him. You pin down Varken.”
“On it, my Lady.”
The funhouse didn’t look like it would be terribly fun, but then, even when she was still human Miranda had never really understood why people liked to be scared on purpose. There were enough frightening things in life already…like her.
In front of the hastily-constructed plywood building, which had been cordoned off already with yellow caution tape, a figure in a long black coat stood impassively watching the window.
Miranda came to stand beside him. “He’s in there?”
Prime David Solomon, monarch of the Southern United States’ vampire population, turned to her with a smile in his deep blue eyes. “Cowering appropriately. I assume you got Cerdo?”
She gave her husband a bloodthirsty smile.
David glanced back toward the carnival. “Can you keep anyone from coming near?”
Miranda nodded, and again extended her gift toward the humans, this time lightly implanting the feeling that they should stay in the area they were in and not venture any closer to the funhouse…in fact they shouldn’t even look in its direction.
“All yours,” she said.
David lifted one hand and closed it into a fist.
The plywood walls of the funhouse began to crack and pop off their nails. The noise was deafening, but Miranda’s gift was strong, and the two hundred or so humans on the midway didn’t so much as blink as the funhouse tumbled in on itself, throwing clouds of sawdust and debris into the air.
“Sire, my Lady, we’ve got Varken cornered in the stadium office—the brick building near the entrance. We’re awaiting your orders.”
“You go on ahead,” David told the Queen. “I’ll stay here and make sure he’s dealt with. I know you want to handle Varken personally.”
She nodded and started to run off, but David caught her hand and kissed it.
“Be careful, beloved,” he said. “Don’t let your anger get the best of you.”
She shot him a Look. “What am I, a Jedi? These bastards killed a van full of kids. We should be stringing them up by their own entrails.”
“Too messy,” he said. “This is a brand new coat.”
Miranda rolled her eyes. “Then I’ll get you a rain poncho.”
He kissed her hand again, then walked purposefully past the yellow tape and into the wreckage of the building, where their quarry was, if still alive, about to meet a very unpleasant (but hopefully not too messy) end.
She headed toward the building their Second had indicated, where she could see the shapes of ten of her warriors waiting outside.
Faith, the Second, bowed to her when she arrived. “Do you have a plan?”
Miranda shrugged. “Go in. Cut his head off. Go home and have a hot bath.”
From inside the building, she heard a child scream.
The Queen met Faith’s eyes. “Did I forget to mention the hostages?” Faith asked.
“Can you influence him from out here?” Faith asked. “You could make him want to give up.”
Miranda frowned, shook her head. “There’s a lot of stuff in the way. Bricks, drywall, electrical—I haven’t quite mastered reaching through walls yet.”
“You mean you don’t know everything after two months as a vampire?” Faith asked wryly. “Why, my Lady, I find I’m disappointed.”
“Stuff it, Second. Is there a back entrance?”
“A door, yes.”
“Keep him focused on the front, then, and I’ll go in the back.”
Before she left, however, Miranda walked up closer to the front door and called where she knew he could hear: “Arnoud Varken! You are under an order of execution for the murder of seven humans. Come out and face justice and a swift, merciful death.”
All she heard were what was surely a series of insults hurled back at her in Dutch.
Miranda gestured for Faith to take it from there, and quickly scaled the chain-link fence to reach the back of the building.
The door had only a standard lock, not even a deadbolt—these humans, so trusting. She broke the knob off with one hand and the door swung inward.
Right away she could feel the fear. There were two humans with Varken, one adult and one child. He’d snatched them from the carnival and dragged them here as leverage. He had no intention of letting them leave alive.
Miranda drew her sword.
She made her way slowly through the building, which was really only two rooms, toward the front where she could hear Faith delivering another ultimatum. She peered around the doorframe carefully.
Varken was behind the front door, crouched down with a girl of perhaps eight clutched back to his chest, his hand over her mouth. A young woman that was probably the child’s mother was on the floor, unconscious, blood oozing from two holes in her neck. She was still breathing.
The little girl’s wide, frightened eyes darted toward Miranda. Miranda projected calm to her, helping her to understand that everything was going to be all right.
Miranda held the girl’s eyes and showed her teeth, making a soundless chomping gesture with her mouth. The girl’s eyes got even wider…but she understood.
“I’m not coming out until I see a car waiting!” Varken yelled through the door. “I want transport and a plane out of Texas or the kid dies next! Give me—“
His words trailed off into a curse as the little girl bit down on his hand as hard as she could.
Varken all but threw the child into the wall, and she crawled as far from him as she could, sobbing. He started to go after her.
Miranda stepped out into the room.
She stared at him hard, letting him see some of her power, and she didn’t have to influence him. He shrank back.
“I am your Queen,” she said, each word outlined in ice. “You will kneel.”
With nowhere to go, knowing it was over, Varken obeyed her, shaking.
Miranda spoke to the little girl. “Sweetie, I want you to go into the back room and put your hands over your ears, okay?”
As soon as she was gone, Miranda stood over her prey, and without another word swung her sword, neatly bisecting his head from his shoulders. She moved out of the way just in time not to get showered in blood.
Faith was just about to throw herself into the door when it opened.
“Done,” the Queen said. “Get an ambulance here for the humans.”
“Already on its way,” Faith said just as the sound of sirens cut through the night’s festivities.
Miranda strode back into the room, stepping over Varken’s head as she crossed to the doorway. She found the little girl balled up in the corner, hands on her ears, just as she’d been told.
The Queen picked her up gingerly and took a moment to soothe her, making her feel sleepy, as if this had all been a long, terrible dream. “It’s okay now,” she said. “Let’s get you and your Mommy to the doctor.”
The little girl fixed her big eyes on Miranda. “Are you the police?” she asked, hiccupping around her tears.
Miranda smiled. “No, sweetie…I’m the Big Bad Wolf.”
It’s been three months since musician Miranda Grey became a vampire and married David Solomon, Prime of the South. As Queen, Miranda must quickly come to terms with her new role and learn how to negotiate the treacherous waters of Signet politics, inevitably making dangerous enemies along the way.
As if complicated vampire politics and a rising music career weren’t enough, an enigmatic but powerful force from David’s past appears, leaving a wake of chaos and uncertainty for the Pair’s fledgling relationship. Miranda begins to realize how little she really knows about her husband. But when an assassin begins targeting her friends and allies, the Pair must track down the killer, even as their lives hang in the balance…
Interested in winning this book? Well it’s your lucky day!
Dianne would like to offer you one (1) signed copy (INT) and Penguin is also offering two (2) copies (US only), for a total of three copies!
This giveaway is open to Internationally
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Ends September 7th, 2011.
Dianne Sylvan, author of the Shadow World novels as well as two books on NeoPagan spirituality, lives in Austin, Texas, the only sane part of the entire state.
More books by Dianne Sylvan