Death, like love, has many subtle and varied layers.
Lost spirit Tamsin West learned that the hard way after a group of Soul Eaters sliced up her soul like birthday cake and doomed her to dust. Only dust is not really the end. Spiritually speaking. By finding a body at the point of death, Tamsin can live again. Live to hunt her killers.
There’s just one catch: that body can have no soul.
Jumping into the body of a murdered royal Prime Vampire is everything a lost spirit on the vengeance trail could hope for. Princess Angelique Duprey, make that ex-Princess, has all the uncanny strengths of the Fae plus a Prime’s ability to manipulate the earth’s elements.
Just the sort of edge Tamsin needs to track a murderous band of Soul Eaters. Unfortunately, as a person, the Princess’ only power seems to have been to piss people off. Dangerous people. The kind looking to start a lethal turf war with the Prime’s clan for a cut of Chicago’s Dark Side.
Reanimating the body puts Tamsin right in the line of fire. But paranormal politics won’t matter much if she can’t convince the handsome Fae Hunter holding a knife to the Vamp’s throat not to kill her all over again.
The afterlife bites.
Targeted Age Group:: Adult audiences
Heat/Violence Level: Heat Level 4 – R Rated
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I started a YA series called Fear Club about a young woman who gets her soul ripped out by the Soul Eaters and must reassemble the pieces before she turns to dust. That made me think what happens to someone who doesn't get her soul back in time and IS turned to dust. Tamsin West, my dusty swirl of spirit who can only live again by jumping into the newly-dead body of a supernatural, evolved from that. These books follow her quest to find the pieces of her soul, put them back together and then see what happens! Prime Vampires, elemental vampires of Fae who hold complex role playing games with real people to alleviate their boredom, had been kicking around in my head for months. The Dust To Dust series — so far one, two and three — gave me a chance to bring them to life.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
Tamsin West, my heroine, was easy to write. She uses humor to keep her sanity, has a bit of smart mouth, is strong but not a bully. She is a lot like me and that makes it easy to understand her choices and feelings. For Drake, her Fae lover, I wanted someone who had been hurt and was still hurting. A bit of a lost soul. I didn't base him on someone in particular but combined the pain of isolation and loneliness I understand very well. I have lived overseas most of my working life and know what it is like to be an outsider. Theo, the quick witted and mercurial Sprite, and his demi-goddess leopard pal, Kitty, literally just popped into my head fully formed. That happens with some of the characters I like the most. They just APPEAR. Thank you muses!
Death, like love, has many subtle and varied layers.
Breathe, she had to breathe. Lungs burning, Tamsin fought through the resistance, through the limbo of life and death. The old memories came rushing past. Not hers, the other's. On their way out, the life that had been lived.
The pain was terrible. Like being born again. If she'd had a voice, she would have screamed. Finally, with one last agonizing effort, she broke through the surface tension, into the body and back to the world of the living.
Tamsin gave a spiritual shrug as though trying on a new outfit that was a little too tight. Pushing herself into the edges, filling out fingers and toes. The body felt good. Not like some of the others. She focused on the heart, working the muscles, getting it to beat again. It took some effort finding the eyes. Ah, there they were. Opening them fully, she blinked her sight into focus. A man towered above her, looking down. Dark hair and darker eyes, his handsome face a mask of, what? Surprise? Horror? Horror, she thought, mentally nodding.
She recognized him. Or the body did. Those last moments before death imprinted on this mind's eye. She tried to speak and only then realized her mouth was full of water. She spit it out.
“Oh,” she gasped, finding her voice. “I know you. You're the man who killed me.”
In one lithe movement, he pulled a bright, silver blade from a sheath at his belt, crouched into a fighter's stance and began to back carefully away.
Coughing up more water, Tamsin dragged herself up to kneel on the cold, wet concrete. She was inside some sort of bunker or something. No windows. A heavy steel door with a spinning handle, like on a ship, at one end. The only light came from a bright halogen lantern sitting on the floor near the door. There were a great many pipe outlets all steadily dripping water.
Though her muscles felt like jelly and the pins and needles of returning circulation had her gritting her teeth, Tamsin managed to rise more or less into a standing position. Swaying unsteadily, she gave her new body a quick glance, careful not to take her eyes off the dark-haired man for long. He watched her warily, still silent.
She was female. Thank God. Tamsin shuddered, remembering. Gender-bending was not an adventure she would like to go through again. No blood that she could see on the body. Given the amount of water she had retched up and the large puddles still draining away, drowning had been the likely cause of death.
Running her tongue over her teeth she felt pointed fangs, rather long ones. What was she this time? Vampire? Demon? She tried to feel what she – or this body – had been. Though she, it, had never had a human soul, there was a spirit trail of residual energy bouncing around. The energy burned a little.
Oh, ouch. Burned a lot.
There seemed to be far too many hot, sharp edges. Metaphysically speaking. Perhaps she had not been a very nice whatever.
“I hope you had a good reason to kill me. I mean her,” was all Tamsin could think of to say to the big man staring wide-eyed at her.
He came at Tamsin with the knife so fast his body was nothing but a swift blur of continuous motion. She stepped aside, only just in time. He whirled, snaking the knife into the space between them, grazing her ribs. She gasped at the swift, sharp pain. It was too soon. She could barely stand, let alone fight, no matter what skills this body had.
She put out her palms in a placating gesture, “Wait, wait, I can explain.”
Shoving her hands aside, he wrestled her down onto the hard floor with bruising force, the knife at her throat in one hand, the other holding her wrists above her head. His expression was fierce, implacable.
“Please,” she gasped. “If she is your enemy, I am not what I was!”
Drake looked into her eyes. Deeply. They had been red before, red as blood. He hated those eyes. Hated her and her foul darkness. Now he thought he saw the darkness slipping away like the water running down the drains, revealing something – someone – very different from the lethal Prime Vampire. Not just her eyes, her whole face was changing. Softening. He reached out with his Fae senses. Careful not to open himself too much in case this was all an act.
Her heart was pounding. Not in anger, he sensed. Fear.
Tamsin was feeling the body's strength a little more now. Her attacker had relaxed his guard ever so slightly, perhaps sensing the change in her. This body had fighting skills. She might be able to take him, but there was something about the big, dark-haired man. Different. She wasn't getting an evil vibe. Not at all. In fact something quite the opposite. Still, he did have a knife to her throat.
She was tired of being afraid. Sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith.
“Please!” Tamsin tried to put all the honest desperation she could into that one word.
Staring at her, his eyes narrowed until his thick brows formed an angry 'V'. He seemed to be thinking over her plea. The knife didn't strike. At least not yet. Both he and the blade looked enormous from where she lay. And both equally deadly.
Still straddling her, he gradually let go of her wrists, though the knife remained poised and ready. They stayed like that for what seemed like a very long time: Tamsin's heart pounding; him staring down at her. He had a rough, outdoorsman look. Strong jaw and cheekbones, broad shoulders. She could certainly attest to his strength. Thick brown hair fell in waves over his ears, just brushing his shoulders. The sensuous curve to his full mouth told a different, more subtle story to the man. Whoever she was, she must have been pretty dangerous. He was dressed for battle in a black, complex Kevlar-style vest that stretched up to cover his throat. Across it rested a bandoleer of knives and other sharp and very dangerous looking objects. A gun belt held more weapons.
“Who…who are you?” he asked at last, his voice deep, questioning.
She answered truthfully, staring back at him through this stranger's eyes, “My name is Tamsin and I have no soul.”
Transition takes a lot of energy. And coffee. Lots and lots of coffee.
The man set down a tray with a large espresso Americano and a plateful of warm ham and cheese rolls. Tamsin eagerly took a swallow of one and a bite of the other. Oh, bliss. Pure bliss.
“You can see, perhaps, I am not what I was,” she mumbled around a mouthful of food.
“Yes, I can now, much more clearly.”
She sat back in the chair, openly curious, “What's changed?”
“Well, for one thing, I have never seen a vampire so eager to find a coffee shop. Your eyes practically rolled back in your head when we walked in and the aroma hit you."
She moaned as another bite of the rich, salty, ham and cheese filled her mouth. “Is that what I am? Was? A vampire? It's been months at least I think it has, since I had a body.” She did a tiny seated victory dance in the chair for the sheer joy of moving. How good to be alive. Again.
He had put her into his car, a black beast of a vehicle that rumbled with power, parked outside the drowning pool on a cold, windy backstreet. She begged for coffee, her throat raw. He'd driven away from the darkened warehouse district to this boulevard full of shops and cafes crisscrossed by canals and bridges. There was a wonderful, real-time energy here that had Tamsin buzzing.
She asked him what city this was.
He answered, “Chicago.”
“Yes!” she pumped the air with one fist enthusiastically.
“And you're happy because?”
“I have business here. I hoped to get near, but in? This is great.”
He asked her no further questions and she was glad of the silence, absorbing the sights, sounds and smells of being back in the mortal world. This was her first time in Chicago and she had no idea where they were.
Time and space did not take the same form in her world. As a spirit, she saw the magic – black, white and every shade of gray – overlaying the city's steel and concrete skin, blurring its contours. People, places, and things glowed with an ebb and flow of pulsing energy that burned day and night.
The kind of seeing had taken a lot of getting used to when she first transitioned. No wonder people had a hard time contacting ghosts. The ghosts were floundering around somewhere up in the ether going, “Where the hell is this and how do I get downtown?” The thought made her smile.
“You need to put your fangs away.”
One hand flew to her lips, hiding her teeth. She gave the man a desperate stare, “Oh spit! I don't know how! What muscles control teeth?”
He seemed to be trying not to laugh, the deep lines around his mouth quivering with the effort, his eyes crinkling at the corners. “Just don't smile.”
“What was her name? This vampire of yours.”
“She was not mine, though she considered me hers,” he said with a cryptic smile. “Angelique. Her name in this world was Princess Angelique Duprey.”
Tamsin couldn't help the snort of derisive laughter that escaped, though she remembered to cover her mouth. “How very inappropriate. Angelique indeed. She was never an angel and I've met a few."
He raised his eyebrows and gave her an appraising look.
"Not human either. Everything works inside, you know what I mean? Not dead-come-back-to-life works like a turned vampire. I think she just preferred blood. Of course, you know that already, right? Why did you drown her?”
“Angelique was a Prime Vampire, not made, just as you said. Do you know about the Prime clans?"
She shook her head. Even on her accelerated supernatural learning curve there was still much she didn't know.
"Primes live in Fae. They are a race, not the undead. Related to Faeries. Elder Blood, and thus nearly immortal. Very rare in this world. Or they used to be. They can eat and drink like everyone else. You were right when you said Angelique just 'preferred' blood. Human blood to be exact. They absorb life essence from it. A small amount is all they require. Nothing like the insatiability of movie vampires. Unless they just want to kill someone that way. Which they do, of course. Rather often.” He paused to take a drink of his coffee.
Tamsin did not like the sound of these Primes. Not at all. Now she was one. Crap.
Wiping his mouth with a napkin, he continued, “They are the most powerful of all vampire clans. You can wound but not kill them with wood or silver. Daylight has no effect, though it does give them a headache. Beheading works pretty well as a temporary solution. If you stitch the two parts back together, however, they will heal with uncanny rapidity.” He grimaced in distaste and Tamsin was sure her expression matched his. “Their progeny – those made, not born – are not as strong and much more like the creatures you are familiar with. Yet everything has a weakness. Primes are Elementals. Connected to the earth. Again, very much like Faeries. Their power, though, is also their downfall. One of the elements: fire, water, air – the lack of it – or earth can also kill them. The trick is to figure out which one.”
"And Angelique's was water."
“Well, I didn't know that. I haven't jumped into many vamps. Are you a vampire hunter?”
He picked up his cup. cappuccino. Tamsin, or rather, Angelique, could smell the milk and cinnamon. He took a drink, not meeting her eyes. “I hunt a lot of things.”
“Are you 'the nameless hunter'?”
He grinned at that, unable to hold it back. “Drake. Just Drake.”
“Well, just Drake. I am a hunter, too.” Her voice was light and joking, the joy of being alive again too much to contain. “First name Tamsin, as I told you. However, my parents could afford a last name. Tamsin West.”
She reached out one hand and Drake automatically took it. At her touch, a frisson of energy ran from her fingertips to his. Not vamp energy. No. Something entirely different. If it had a color it would have been silver. Shining and bright and eager. Tamsin did not seem to notice. She settled back in the chair, pulling Drake's heavy suede trench coat a little tighter.
Thank's to Drake, she shed some of Angelique's wet clothes – the woman seemed to have a thing for leather and spandex. She'd wriggled out of the pants and jerkin and put on a thermal tee she found in the back seat and one of his shirts. It was January in Chicago, he was wearing several under the Kevlar. Given his size and her lack thereof, it worked as a dress. He pulled out a green trench lined in wool from the trunk to complete her somewhat bohemian ensemble.
She kept on Angelique's high black motorcycle boots, wet as they were. This body didn't feel the cold like a human's.
“May I ask why, not to mention how you jumped into Angelique's body? Ghostly possession is one thing. You are something entirely different.”
“I am, aren't I?” She laughed. “Well, let's see. I was human once upon a time. Now I'm tracking those who took my soul and left me to die. People I thought of as friends. Best friends." She shook her head, remembering the pain of that betrayal. “How ironic, you know? Wait, you don't know. How could you? The irony is I never even believed in magic. Or ghosts. And then, surprise! I was one.”
She took a big bite of the ham and cheese roll, talking around the mouthful. "Soul Eaters. That's what they call themselves. Sorcerers. I don't know if they are human or not. They certainly have very little humanity. They divided my soul into five pieces like birthday cake, turning my body to dust in a terrible ceremony and dooming me to wander forever as a lost spirit. No soul equals no afterlife, at least as humans imagine it. Shut the gates of heaven right in my face. And I am not just speaking metaphorically. I spent quite a while moaning and feeling sorry for myself until I noticed the world of the paranormal is actually quite a vast and diverse place. And not all evil. Another soul seeker, a woman, finally helped me. Showed me how I could jump into others with no soul right at the point of death and live again."
"Only those with no soul?"
She nodded, her mouth full.
He shifted his long legs, “Angelique always struck me as a soul-less monster, though not in the literal sense.”
Tamsin swallowed. “Oh, sorry, I should have clarified that a bit. From what I've learned, and I admit it is pretty second and third hand, all souls are not created equal. There are human souls and other souls. Since I am, was, a human, I can only jump into a non-human at the point of death. Otherwise, the body just spits me out.”
“What about dogs? Can you jump into dogs?”
Tamsin gave him a sour look. “Doggy dogs, no. Certain kinds of shapeshifters, yes.”
“Cats? I bet cats would work.”
“The body has to be close to human. At least most of the time.”
“No! No monkeys. We're talking sentient here!”
He gave an exaggerated shrug, “Who makes these rules?”
She inhaled a large crumb and whatever she was going to say got caught in a fit of coughing. When she finally got her breath back, she saw the little quirk at the corner of his mouth, laughter lurking in his eyes.
“You're teasing me,” she wheezed.
He gave a bark of laughter.
“As I was saying! At the point of death, when their 'non-human' soul has fled,” she put imaginary quotation marks around 'non-human' for emphasis. “I step in and reanimate the body.”
“Or you have no form?”
“Nope. None at all, though I have learned how to make my spirit alter the body I take. Making it subtly more 'me'.”
She had run into the bathroom here at the coffee shop when they first came in, curious to see who she was. A thin, angry-eyed stranger stared back. Pale skin, high cheekbones, big, smoky eyes set in a pretty, narrow face, black hair falling like silk to her waist. Angelique had skull tattoos on her arms, throat, the back of her neck, both shoulders and, Tamsin peeked, down to the naughty bits. Nothing but skulls. Over and over and over. That was just weird, even for a vampire.
“So you're searching for the pieces of your soul. That means you are looking for yourself, as it were?”
She nodded, savoring the hot, bitter coffee running down her throat. Savoring having a throat. 'Throats are awesome,' she sighed to herself.
“What will happen when you get all the pieces?”
She liked how he said when not if. He was very calm and relaxed with her. This man Drake, whatever he was – and she was sure he wasn't human – had strength. Spiritual as well as physical. Her altered state let her see it, feel it. Plus he bought her food. She liked a man who knew to feed a woman.
“I'm hoping they will just sort of stick themselves back together like magnets.” Which was a lie. Engaging as he seemed, she must be cautious. She decided not to tell him that since her body had already turned to dust, her soul bits would not 'just stick themselves back together'. For that, she needed certain objects to facilitate a powerful spell. Four to be precise. Separately, each object contained a set of runes somewhere on it. Together the runes formed a complete summoning spell. Four very valuable objects other supernaturals would kill to get their hands, paws, or claws on. Maybe the kind of people – and she used that term loosely – that hired big, dark Hunters.
“There isn't a manual. It's taken me years of research, trial and error. Rather an amazing lot of errors actually, to get this far.” She gave him a bright smile.
“Then what? I mean once they've stuck themselves back together.”
She shrugged. “No idea.” Which was actually true. The four objects would allow her to bind her soul. The rest still seemed a little hazy. “Maybe I go to the afterlife all the good boys and girls get. Or maybe I just live out the rest of my years in the body I reside in at the time and then die. I don't know.” Actually, revenge more than resolution had been the driving force in her mission. Until she learned about the four rune objects.
He gave her a thoughtful look as though he could see there was more going on in her head than she was letting on. “Have you found any, um, soul parts?”
“Where are they?”
“In a Swiss bank vault.”
He choked on his cappuccino.
Leaning over, she patted him on the back while he gagged.
“You're joking?” he gasped out.
“No. I have a safe deposit box with a private bank in Zurich. Right off the Bahnhoffstrasse, close to the lake. Because of the body switching thing, valid I.D. gets complicated. I have an agreement with a very sweet Swiss succubus who is a partner in the bank.” She waved one hand in the air, “Though that's another story. Enough to say they are locked away, glowing in two little crystal vials as I search for the rest.”
Much to her surprise, he started to laugh. A deep, rumbling, good-natured laugh that had the other people in the coffee house turning and smiling with him, wishing they could share in the joke with the big man and his wide smile.
“What?” she asked. “What's so funny?”
He wiped at his eyes with the back of one broad hand, “I envisioned many, many ways this evening could turn out. Most of them involving blood and terror. Sitting in a coffee house sipping cappuccino with a toxic Prime Vampire opposite me smiling away like a country girl who just hit the big city and talking about a sweet Swiss succubus. That was never on the list. Never even close.” He laughed harder.
Tamsin flushed. “Is that how I look? Just…” She tried to find the right words. “To feel everything again so fully. When I am a spirit, the real world has very little substance.” She took a big bite of the roll. “And no taste.” Though the words came out like 'mumble, mumble, garble' because her mouth was so full.
Still chewing, she looked longingly at the counter.
Drake correctly interpreted her expression. “What else would you like?”
“Do they have any almond croissants? I would kill for an almond croissant.”
He gave her a sharp look, his eyes flashing.
She made a face. “I didn't mean that literally. Whatever Angelique's appetites were, they are not mine.”
“Obviously, since you apparently have the appetite of a 200-pound man.”
She nodded, still chewing. “Yeah, I've been that. Maybe 250 if you add in the horns, wings, tail and oversized testicles.”
Drake froze in the midst of rising from the chair and gave her a shocked look.
That laugh. As he waited in line, he thought about her laugh, her smile, those bright eyes shining out of Angelique's. Honest, direct, laughing at herself, at her terrible fate or in spite of it. Without defining it in so many words, he felt a subtle change in the direction of this very strange night. Strange even for a Fae hunter banished to the mortal world meant it had to be weird, he thought wryly.
He was just turning away from the register, plate in hand, when he sensed their presence.
Four of them.
Watching Drake's posture, watching him because honestly, this was a man worth watching in action or repose, Tamsin knew immediately something was up. Returning, he set the croissants on the table and placed his hand on her elbow, pulling her to her feet. She stood, forcing her new senses into overdrive. Blood, she smelled blood and something else. More elusive, yet somehow familiar.
The four young men pushed through the doors. Two of them fair; two of them dark. A double set of twins. They were dressed in such cutting-edge fashion it was a wonder the men didn't slice themselves on the wool and leather couture seams and bleed to death right in the doorway. Their boots, handmade and stitched, jingled with metal amulets. If she focused her eyes, she could see each amulet in minute detail. Vampire vision rocked.
“Are the Lost Boys friends of yours?” She asked as he steered her towards a small alcove near the bathrooms.
“Oh crap.” That was why they smelled familiar. It was her smell as well. “There's no back door through here, you know that, right?”
He nodded, “I need to tell you something. About Angelique and the Primes. Her father, Prince Duprey, runs Chicago's Dark Side.”
“Prince, not King?”
He waved away her question, “Primes take whatever title they like here. That's not the point. Immortality leads to a terrible sense of ennui, especially when their own lands in Fae are at peace, as they are now. To offset the boredom, Prime Vampires use the mortal world as their own personal playground. They create complex role-playing games as though this world was one vast X-Box game catalog for the supernaturally enhanced. They form alliances, join each other's games, or create new ones. Most humans are nothing more than very satisfying game pieces, as well as tasty snacks. Currently, Prince Duprey amuses himself playing a complex game of cops and robbers. Obviously, he's not one of the cops. You're going to have to find another body. Soon!”
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