Megan O’Day seems to be navigating the unpredictable waters of her growing relationship with Geoffrey Drake, her centuries-old vampire guardian angel, rather well. But then his past suddenly rips him from her, forcing her to face the unknown future alone in this gripping sequel to The Stage.
Still bound to Geoffrey through the power of the Link despite his unexplained absence, Megan’s mind is flooded with his haunted memories. While she relives the darkest moments of his previous life, she discovers his attachment to a woman who bears a striking resemblance to her.
As she questions Geoffrey’s love for her, she strikes up a dangerous alliance with Geoffrey’s brother, Alexander, who is also a vampire. She hopes that he will help her find a way to rescue Geoffrey; instead, he seems to be awakening new emotions and desires within her.
As the past and present collide, Megan struggles to fend off Alexander’s dark seduction. Is Geoffrey truly beyond the reach of her love forever? If not, what must be sacrificed to bring them back together again?
“Acknowledging the stories that came before, The Stage Chronicles offer a fun twist on vampire lore. Russell creates a perfect elixir for the modern vampire fan: pop culture, the music scene, and forbidden attraction that becomes more potent as the story progresses. I enjoyed watching Megan blossom while her relationship with Geoffrey grew in intensity and complexity as secrets were revealed and mysteries explored.” —Val Muller, author, The Scarred Letter and The Girl Who Flew Away
Moving day was here. Even though we’d cleared the apartment of surveillance equipment, I no longer felt safe in my cozy little apartment. But I didn’t want to walk out on the sublet agreement that I’d signed with my best friend, Ashleigh Dior. She’d given me a good deal on the rent and I didn’t like breaking the contract. Ashleigh suggested I offer it to Ian and Jason, and they jumped at the chance.
“Knock-knock! Your moving crew has arrived!” Pepper’s chirpy voice squeaked in the hallway. I rolled my eyes at the thought of her using the front door. I’d grown accustomed to her and her family simply showing up on my fourth-floor balcony.
“It’s open,” I said from the farthest room in the back of my handkerchief-sized apartment. I didn’t even have to raise my voice, I knew they could hear me just fine. Turning around, I shoved what clothes I owned into my duffle bag. I glanced up and Pepper, who along with Mitch, Robert, and Tracy, was standing in the middle of my front room, looking perplexed.
“Did you lose something?” I glared at Mitch, who was holding my footlocker way too easily with one hand.
“Your things, child. Where are they?” Tracy asked in her thick accent.
“Ah, you’re standing in the middle of them.” I gestured to the footlocker, a couple of cardboard boxes, and my art supplies.
Robert looked at Tracy, his better half, with a blank expression. “Is she joking or serious? I can’t tell.”
I heaved my bulging duffel bag at him, and he caught it without effort. Sometimes I hated being the only human in a household full of vampires. Everything came so easy for them. I, on the other hand, just worked a lot harder to keep up because that’s just what I do.
“Well, what about your furniture?” Pepper asked, lifting up the end of my second-hand couch.
“I won’t need it,” I said. Geoffrey had a fully furnished house. He was very well taken care of, what with centuries of bank accounts at his disposal.
Of course you can bring all of it with you. It’s a part of you, I heard lovingly across the link in my mind.
I turned to see him, standing in the shadows by the sliding glass doors, shoulder-length dark hair tucked behind one ear, crystal blue eyes smoldering. There weren’t many things I couldn’t do for myself, but Geoffrey was always the gentleman and insisted on helping me.
“Actually, I don’t mind leaving the furniture. The boys will need it to start out.” I shrugged my shoulders and scooped up one of my precious few family heirlooms, an ornately carved box.
Robert turned to his fraternal twin brother Mitch, pretending to help carry the footlocker, though I’m sure Mitch could have done it with one hand tied behind his back.
“Excited about moving in?” Pepper asked
“Sure. Yeah. Yippee!” I tried not to roll my eyes. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to move in with Geoffrey and his family, it was the circumstances.
“Well, you could always stay,” she quipped back, knowing my knee-jerk reaction.
“I don’t think so,” I snapped at her angelic face. She winked, knowing I wasn’t miffed at her.
“And I second that opinion,” Geoffrey stated, standing his full height. “Robert, did you and Mitch finish sweeping the place?” Geoffrey asked as we gathered the remaining boxes. He wasn’t referring to dust bunnies, he meant the surveillance equipment Chase had installed in my apartment.
“Found, destroyed, all clear.” He grinned and headed down the hall past Chase’s door.
Geoffrey and I stepped into one elevator, the others squeezed into the other. I fumbled with the box as the elevator doors closed. The elevator jerked slightly. Geoffrey had pushed the stop button, and gently took the box from my hands as the elevator halted between floors. I grinned, knowing what he was up to. I reached up to his delicious mouth as his cool palms softly held my face.
Whenever our lips touched the link became a hyper wire of electric current. My tongue danced in time with his as his venom flowed into me. Along with my being the mythological link to him, we’d also discovered that I was immune to his venom—but mind you, it still had its drawbacks. Sure, it gave me enhanced senses and physical abilities, but it also made me sicker than a dog if the dose was too big, basically a nasty hangover.
Just as his icy fingers skimmed my waist, the call buzzer rang, interrupting our moment. I had about two seconds before he pulled away, so I held him tighter to me, tugging on his delicious lower lip a bit longer, and his fingers grazed the top of my hips, which only made me want him more.
Damn buzzer. And I was just getting started, too. He grinned as I tucked my shirt back in.
“At least we won’t have interruptions to worry about anymore,” he said aloud as he tucked my hair back behind my ear, sending a small thrill through me.
“Very true,” I agreed as the doors opened, revealing my elderly upstairs neighbor, Mr. Gregory.
“I hear you’re leaving us, Ms. O’Day.” His mouth frowned with sadness as we traded places with him.
“Yes, it’s time, but take care, George. Keep the boys in line, all right?” I gave him a one-armed hug as Geoffrey held the door open.
“I will, count on it. No racket at all hours, no doors slamming. I’ll miss your quietness, believe me.” His wise smile puckered as he pecked my cheek. Then he looked squarely at Geoffrey.
“And you, mister…you better treat her right, you understand me?”
“Yes sir. I’ll will.” He respectfully tipped his head and shook hands with him.
Forever if I get my way, he silently sent. I kept my eyes forward, trying not to overreact to his thought. He’d wanted me to move in for a while. So as not to offend him, I cloaked my feelings and pictured our recent Christmas together.
Don’t get me wrong; I was excited about being with him, but I just wasn’t used to living with a lot of people.
We climbed into his Mustang and led the group out of town. Mitch followed in the Hummer and Robert brought up the rear in Tracy’s red Saab. All but one of my things were in the Hummer. I held on my lap the ancient box I’d found at my childhood home. It was the last house I had shared with my mother before cancer had ripped her away from me.
I’d found the box shortly after Dawn’s funeral. A force I couldn’t explain had guided me to it, and I still didn’t know what mysteries it held. Geoffrey and Pepper had researched the ancient carvings on it but had come up empty. Just having it on my lap, it was still somehow pulling me to it, telling me to find a way to unlock it.
“Penny for your thoughts, love?” he asked, switching lanes too fast again.
“Wishing you’d keep your eyes on the road, as usual.” I grinned at him as he eased off the pedal, taking his exit.
“I’m still curious about this box, that’s all,” I said, my fingertips silently tracing the carved edges.
“Are you sure? I felt something, like you were showing me something else…” His voice trailed off as he turned into his driveway. I glanced at him, seeing his crystal blue eyes focusing on a thought.
“No, I just want to get unpacked.” I fidgeted with my sunglasses. Even though it was a typical overcast day I still wore them to avoid unwanted attention.
After we attempted to take our relationship to the next level my eyes had turned silver. Geoffrey’s changed to silver as well but that was the least of our worries, because his darker nature came out in full force. It took everything we had to keep him from succumbing to it, and to keep me alive to see my next sunrise. We’d discovered loving one another was risky business. Now my eyes were almost the same as old, one blue, one green—but with a sliver of silver.
We pulled into his huge garage with Mitch and Robert right behind. His motorcycle, which he normally drove during the summer and fall, sat in the far corner, looking somewhat forlorn. I longed for t hose days.
He caught me staring. “You miss it?” he asked as the others filed passed us.
“Yeah, a little.”
“We could go for a quick ride,” he offered, keys already in hand.
“Brrr. I don’t think so. Unlike you, I’d end up a popsicle.”
Ah, yes but I could warm you back up, his voice purred in my mind as his arms wrapped around me. Just as his lips found mine, Andrew came around the corner.
“Special delivery, sir. Good day, Ms. Megan.” Andrew’s blue eyes twinkled as his smile grew across his wise face. His smile was infectious; no matter what my day was like, seeing Andrew’s smile was like seeing a grandparent spoiling a grandchild. The few wrinkles he had near his eyes only made him that much more endearing.
It just isn’t our day, is it? Geoffrey asked silently, kissing my forehead instead. “Thank you, Andrew.” He took the offered parchment envelope from him as we made our way inside.
“Would you care for anything from the kitchen, Ms. Megan?” Andrew asked as I set down my precious cargo on the counter. Andrew was unique not because he was a vampire, but because he was also a chef at heart.
“Not right now, Andrew, but thank you,” I said kindly.
During his mortal life Andrew had been a chef, and even though he no longer ate human food he still prepared it for the local homeless shelters. Since I was the only human around the house I was usually his guinea pig, which normally would be great. Except nothing was “normal” about me now. I glanced at the envelope in Geoffrey’s hand. It had a formal wax seal and elegant black script. Something about the coat of arms seal made me uncomfortable.
“What’s that?” I asked as we walked into my room. This had been an office but it was larger than my old place. My small pile of sad-looking belongings was neatly stacked in the corner next to the sliding glass deck doors.
“Oh, just a note from Serena.” Serena was his Inner Circle contact. Geoffrey folded the parchment, shoving it into the back pocket of his tight black jeans. “Nothing to worry about, love,” he breathed on me, nuzzling my neck.
“Now, where were we before being interrupted?” He smiled so sinfully. He loved distracting me. It was close to impossible for me to resist.
Our lips had barely met when Pepper came in the door. “So, are you all settled in?” Geoffrey’s glare and low growl did nothing to dampen her perpetually upbeat mood. “Oops. Am I interrupting?”
“No…” I glanced up at Geoffrey, feeling him writhing internally, and smiled back at her.
“Of course not, Pepper.” He gave up and pecked my forehead before he left the room. As he passed he tried to flick her ear but she quickly ducked out of the way.
“What’s up?” I asked, pulling my clothes out my duffel bag and then refolding them.
“Just thought I’d offer help.” She perched on the overly-large bed he’d given me; it had crimson sheets and a beautiful cream cover.
“I’m good but thanks.” I grinned.
“What’s with him?” She gestured to the door.
“Our timing’s off today, no matter where we are. Don’t take it personal,” I said placing my art supplies on the secondhand drawing table and easel I’d found at the market.
“Oh, I’m not. Just curious.” She looked out the windows at the typical Northwest skies—gray and compact clouds, threatening rain. We chatted about work for bit, then the reasons for my move.
“Have you heard from Chase, then?” she asked as I headed into the closet to hang up my two work shirts and pants. The four hangers took up a whopping foot of the enormous walk-in.
“No, nothing. But then again I don’t expect to, either.” I thought for a moment. “You know I’m not mad at him for spying on me, mind you. I didn’t like that, but it’s the fact that he wasn’t honest that gets me. If people aren’t honest and trustworthy, then what is there?”
“True,” she said standing to go. She leaned against the doorway.
“What time do you work tonight?”
“I’m not on tonight, but I wanted to go over the training schedule with Ash. The new ordering-cash register-billing-accounting system she’s installing is a nightmare.”
She left me in silence for the first time today. Even with the rain now drizzling outside I opened the doors and stepped out. The cool damp air cleared my head. I reached out with my senses, feeling the peacefulness of the woods wash through me. Growing up on South Hill in Puyallup, I’d always played and dreamed in the surrounding forest. And now I could smell the pine, cedar, and alder trees. Even in January the freshness always drew me into the darkness of the woods, like an old friend welcoming me.
I came back in when the drizzle turned to a heavy downpour. I headed to the bathroom and the double-headed shower with all the hot water I wanted. One advantage of the residents of his home: they didn’t require showers, unlike me, the human, who today stunk like cleaning chemicals from scrubbing the apartment spotless.
The hot water flowed over my goose-bumped skin, relaxing me, and allowing the silence I cherished. In my mind, I began to hear his voice. He was talking with Pepper and Tracy about something that was obviously agitating him. Then I could see the note in his hand as he paced back and forth. Something in the message had him on edge. Tracy was trying to get a word in, yet he talked non-stop while running his hand through his hair.
I could see Pepper, in front of her computer, trying to find something he kept asking for, but what I couldn’t tell. Somehow in my completely relaxed state of mind I’d discovered how to go around his mental barrier that he used to keep me out. I hadn’t mastered that trick completely yet, but he was an old pro at blocking me.
The feeling across the link was worry of the unknown again, a regular occurrence since Christmas. I stood still in the running water, allowing myself to remain calm while he dealt with Pepper and Tracy. Our link doubled the emotions that we shared, no matter what kind.
“Geoffrey, you know a summons can’t be ignored, no matter who delivered it,” Pepper said as her fingers flew across the keyboard. Her voice gave no hint as to the person behind the note.
“I’m no longer under his jurisdiction, and haven’t been for some time now. He can’t summon me. If I give him the power over me, all is lost. But if I don’t…” His voice tightened, conflicting emotions of frustration and protectiveness competing with one another.
Memories of his early days crossed the link as he remembered. Snapshots of the Inner Circle, Marco, and other members I didn’t know.
But then one of the faces caught my attention. A woman who sat alongside Marco on the throne; her face was of course beautiful (who ever heard of an ugly vampire, right?), her dark auburn hair cascading down onto porcelain shoulders held straight by her perfect posture. Her movements were just as graceful as any other vampire, but there was an air about her, one of aristocracy. She even appeared to look down upon Marco, though in a hidden manner.
All these details spoke volumes about her without words, but they weren’t the reasons that drew my attention. Her features, size, and full figure were recognizable because…she was me!
Suddenly the link slammed shut. It was painful coming back to reality. My eyes flew open as the water streamed down my flushed face. I leaned against the tiled wall, trying to make sense of it all.
Why would he keep this from me?
Who was she?
And most importantly, why did I look like her?
I slowed my breathing as best as I could. I felt chilled to the bone but I knew it wasn’t because of being wet. The memory had shaken me down deep.
I knew he’d be waiting—waiting for me to ask the questions. Then he’d persuade me to another topic or distract me with his cool lips somehow.
I looked at myself in the mirror. I told myself I would not give in to any of it; I’d find the answers myself.