Excerpt – The Bonds of Blood

Warning!  The stories in my Final Formula Series are intended to be read in order.  Reading them out of order will spoil the fun of an earlier tale.  For blurbs, excerpts, and retailer links on the previous books in the series, just click on my BOOKS tab above.


TheBloodofBonds-800 Cover reveal and PromotionalChapter 1

James studied the body lying facedown at his feet. A crossbow quarrel was buried in the man’s side, making a closer examination unnecessary to determine how he had died. But apparently, the Paranormal Investigation Agency needed further confirmation.

“Shot through the heart.” Agent Bruner rose to his feet, shucking off his gloves.

James remembered Agent Bruner from the last murder scene he had attended. James’s brothers had been framed for the three deaths at that scene, but as it had turned out, they were not to blame. That wasn’t the case here. This man had died at his brothers’ hands—which left a knot of guilt in James’s stomach.

“He collapsed almost instantly,” Agent Bruner continued, turning to Director Waylon. “I think you are correct about the shooter’s position.”

“Amazing shot.” Director Waylon nodded at the open drive-through window behind the dead man. The quarrel had been shot from the woods bordering the building. A witness who had been pumping gas verified that no one had been at the window at the time of the shooting.

“He was a little off,” James spoke up.

“What makes you say that?” Rowan asked from his place beside Waylon. Rowan had called James at the hospital and asked him to drive over. James hated to leave Elysia’s side, but so far, he hadn’t had any success waking her from her coma. He might be able to help here. Besides, his brothers were his responsibility.

“The shattered rib,” James answered.

“You can tell the quarrel hit a rib by its placement?” Agent Bruner asked, sounding impressed.

“No. I smell bone marrow.”

Agent Bruner glanced at Waylon, his brows lifting.

“You’re certain it was them?” Rowan asked. They were having some difficulty viewing the security footage from inside the store. A couple of agents were working on that now.

“It is the quarrel George prefers.”

“I’m sure a lot of hunters use them.”

James took a step closer to the dead man and squatted beside the body.

“Don’t touch anything,” Agent Bruner spoke up. “We haven’t dusted for prints.”

James didn’t comment. Instead, he leaned forward and sniffed the fletching. The victim might have died quickly, but he had still left a pool of blood on the cement floor beneath him. The iron scent permeated the air, but James had no trouble discerning George’s familiar scent.

James settled on his haunches to frown at the quarrel. “George fired the shot.”

“Then we’ll find his prints on the quarrel.” Waylon nodded to a couple of agents standing nearby. They came forward to help Bruner with the body.

“Sir?” another agent called to Waylon from the doorway to the back room. “We got the footage up if you want to see it.”

“Excellent.” Waylon walked toward the man.

Rowan followed and James fell in beside him, not so certain he wanted to see this. He knew Henry had been in the store and had been the one to empty the register, but he didn’t want to watch it transpire.

The lights were off in the cramped back room that served as storage as well as the nerve center for the surveillance equipment. That equipment being an old 13-inch TV and a VHS recorder. No wonder the footage had given the agents so much trouble.

“The tape has been recorded over many times,” the agent was explaining to Waylon. “The quality is rough. But we should be able to enhance it at the lab.”

“Go ahead,” Waylon said.

James crossed his arms and waited for the video to start playing. The agent was right. The image quality was terrible, but it was good enough to make out Henry as he stepped up to the counter and set a six-pack of beer on the surface. The camera was mounted above the drive-through window behind the clerk.

Henry nodded and smiled, apparently in response to something the clerk said. The register drawer popped open, and the clerk stumbled to the side as a quarrel seemed to erupt from his ribs.

James grunted.

“What is it?” Rowan asked.

“George wasn’t off on the shot. He hit the guy from the side so he wouldn’t fall straight forward and potentially close the register drawer. Sorry. I should have seen that.”

Still smiling, Henry casually stepped behind the counter, pulled a plastic bag off the rack beside the register, and began emptying the drawer.

“I don’t see how you could have possibly seen that,” Waylon said to James.

James didn’t comment. He watched Henry finish filling his bag, then return to his place on the other side of the counter. He said something, smiling the whole time, before he picked up the six-pack and calmly walked out of the frame.

The agent manning the video recorder stopped the tape and looked up at Waylon. “Chilling, huh? This man might not have killed the clerk, but he’s just as cold-blooded as the guy who fired the shot.”

Waylon sighed, but didn’t comment. Maybe out of respect for James.

“Director?” a male voice called from behind them. “We’ve completed our search of the woods along the line of trajectory. Nothing.”

James turned to find a familiar agent addressing Waylon. The man glanced over at James and his eyes went wide. With a gasp that was almost a cry, he threw himself back, but slammed against a stack of boxes beside the door.

Waylon moved almost as fast, catching the man’s splinted wrist before he could draw his weapon.

“Marcus. Stop this,” Waylon commanded.

James eyed the man, remembering well their last meeting. The agent had succeeded in drawing his gun that time and getting off a shot. The bullet had grazed Addie’s cheek. The scent of her blood had sent James straight into the Hunt. The Hunt for this man’s blood. How the agent had escaped with just a broken wrist was still a mystery to him.

“Agent Marcus, are you listening to me?” Waylon demanded, struggling to hold the guy.

James met the agent’s wide, dilated eyes. He was still annoyed that the man had come so close to hurting Addie, but in the absence of the Hunt, James now understood, and almost felt sorry for the guy.

“Maybe a few more weeks of unpaid leave will help you regain control of your temper,” Waylon continued.

“Don’t punish him for listening to his instincts,” James said.

Waylon frowned. “If I release him, he’ll shoot you.”

“It won’t hurt me.” Well, it would hurt, but it wouldn’t kill him. You couldn’t kill what was already dead.

A flash of light, and Agent Marcus’s holster was suddenly empty.

James glanced over at Rowan in time to watch the fire fade from his eyes. “Rowan.” James wanted to reprimand him, but he couldn’t in front of the PIA. Addie had somehow helped Rowan rebuild his crumbling control, but he shouldn’t be using his magic. They had no idea how long Addie’s fix would last.

“I don’t trust his aim,” Rowan said.

James sighed.

“Can I let you go, Agent?” Waylon asked his man. “Or do you need to be escorted out of here? Perhaps a psych evaluation is in order.”

“He’s not crazy; he’s a Sensitive,” James said. Agent Marcus was one of those rare humans who could sense magic, but possessed none of their own. They were the only type of magical Waylon would hire. “He sees what I truly am.”

“A grim,” Waylon said. “Every man in this room knows that, but none of them are trying to shoot you.”

James took a step closer, but when Agent Marcus’s wide eyes went even wider, James stopped. “Tell him what I am.” James held the man’s gaze.

“Death,” Agent Marcus whispered. His focus shifted to Waylon. “He’s Death. He shouldn’t be here.”

“We need his help with this investigation,” Waylon said.

“He doesn’t mean here.” James lifted his arms to indicate the building around them. “He means the mortal plane.”

“Because you’re dead,” Waylon concluded.

“No,” Agent Marcus insisted, his voice rising in pitch. “He is Death. The reaper of souls. He doesn’t belong here.”

“He’s helping us.” Waylon frowned at the man. Clearly, the director wasn’t getting it.

“I’m going to take a look in the woods,” James said, his eyes meeting Rowan’s before he headed for the door. He gave the terrified agent a wide berth and left the room. Crossing the small store in several quick strides, he stepped outside.

A pair of agents stood just beyond the door. They had been talking, but fell silent when James walked out. He gave them a nod and headed for the side of the building.

“Jesus, I didn’t know he was here,” one of the agents whispered to the other.

“Who is he?”

“He’s magical. Some kind of shapeshifter. I saw him turn into a dog—except it was like no dog I ever saw.”

His friend chuckled. “Scary.”

James turned the corner, but he had no trouble hearing the agent’s soft reply.

“Seriously. Ask anyone who was at the triple homicide at that cemetery. He’s not…natural. When he looks at you, I swear to God he can see your soul.”

James sighed. That was a surprisingly accurate observation for a mundane human. He crossed the parking lot and stopped at the edge of the woods. A collection of old cigarette butts littered the area, their harsh scent competing with the smell of damp earth and new grass.

James smelled neither of his brothers’ scents, but he still called the hound, using its vision to search the surrounding area for two familiar souls. Solid objects were not a hindrance, but distance was. George and Henry were not within his range, but that wasn’t to say they weren’t watching through binoculars—or a riflescope.

Closing his eyes, James gave his animal instincts free rein. Was he being watched? It was hard to tell with Rowan’s eyes on him.

“Anything?” Rowan stopped beside him.

“Nothing. They’re gone.”

“Are you going to search the trees?”

James opened his eyes, gazing at the awakening woods before them. The undergrowth was turning green with the recent spring rains, and most of the trees were budding.

“No need,” he answered Rowan. “They left nothing for me to find.”

Rowan stared into the forest a moment before turning to him. “What that agent said… I know it bothers you.”

“He’s a Sensitive. A powerful one. He sees the true nature of magic.” James shrugged. “And he’s right. I don’t belong here.”


“Even Marian saw what I truly was. Remember? She told you that you’d meet Death.”

“Marian adores you.”

James smiled, thinking about the precocious eight-year-old seer. “She also thinks my other form is cute.”

Rowan chuckled. “As long as she doesn’t think this form is cute.”

James smiled at the joke, though he continued to study the trees.

Rowan’s hand settled on his shoulder. “I think you’re more than Death’s unwelcome face on the mortal plane.”

“Thanks, but that doesn’t change what I am.”

“What’s that? My brother?”

James pulled his attention from the forest to stare at Rowan. “Brother?”

“You’re part of my family.”

“I’m not New Magic.”

Rowan smiled. “How do you know? You weren’t even born when magic returned.”

“Gavin was,” James said, referring to the grim that had preceded him. “Prior to that necromancer finding him, he had been entombed for centuries. The grim isn’t New Magic. One has always been around since the first was created—with alchemy.”

“Addie says that when one grim dies, another is born. How does that work?”

“Just like that.”

“Babies take nine months to develop.”

“Human babies.” James returned his attention to the trees, though he could feel Rowan watching him.

“You don’t want to talk about it?”

James sighed. “What I know comes from George and Henry. How accurate their story is, I can’t say. Brian was too young to really remember more than our mother’s screams.”

When Rowan didn’t speak, James glanced over and found him frowning.

“Yeah, I know,” James said. “Another horror story from my past. I had the childhood from hell—literally.”

“You do know that none of that was your fault. You had no control over the magic.”

“Much like you didn’t have control of yours in the beginning?” When Rowan lost control of the Fire and accidentally killed his entire family.

Rowan dipped his head in acquiescence. “Touché. Though I would argue that I had a little more control of my magic at that moment than you did at your birth.”

James grunted. “I will concede that.”

Rowan watched him, clearly expecting him to continue the story.

James sighed. What the hell. “George was twelve and Henry was eight. They were all sitting around watching TV when something came over our father. He went into some kind of frenzy, grabbed our mother, and took her right there.”

“Dear God.” Rowan lifted his lip in disgust. “In front of his children?”

“I was born the next morning.”

“The next morning?” Rowan’s brows rose almost to his hairline. “How is that even possible?”

“It’s not meant to be. My mother didn’t survive, and I was stillborn, though I shifted forms almost immediately. I’m told I remained that way for the first few weeks.”

“You could shapeshift at birth?”

“I spent most of my first year as an animal. Probably because the mobility was better.”

Rowan laughed at the joke, but James couldn’t help but wonder what he really thought, especially when Rowan fell silent, seeming to consider all James had told him.

“But your father was a Hunter, right?” Rowan asked after a moment. “How did he father a grim?”

“The grim is born of the Hunter line. When Gavin died, my father was the only adult Hunter. That’s how it works.”

Rowan grunted. “And you developed at the normal rate after your birth?”

“More or less. My senses and reflexes weren’t normal, but I was always the same size as other kids my age—not that my brothers let me fraternize much.” Friends were a luxury he had never been allowed—until Addie.

“I’ve noticed that they’re a little protective of you.”

“To put it mildly.”

Rowan studied him. “And George and Henry are the last of the line?”


“Are you certain? They don’t strike me as the type to do the right thing in any situation. I doubt a box of condoms makes it on their grocery list very often.”

“Maybe the universe decided that enough is enough.” James fumbled around for some distraction. He did not want to discuss this with Rowan. “I need to get back to the hospital. I’ve done all I can here.”

“Let’s go grab a bite to eat first. You haven’t left that hospital in a week. The food has got to be getting old.”

“It won’t kill me.”

Rowan smiled. “Avoiding death is not the only reason to eat.” His expression sobered. “Has there been any change at all?”

“None.” James glared at the trees. Elysia was showing no signs of coming out of her coma. “I might be Death’s unwelcome face on the mortal plane, but I can’t do shit about the real thing.”

“I think you’ve been sitting alone listening to those monitors beep for too long. Spend some time with Addie. She thinks even Death will bend to her will.”

“I usually do.”

Rowan laughed. “Come on.” He clapped James on the shoulder and began walking toward where their cars were parked.

“I can get takeout somewhere,” James relented.

“Elysia’s grandmother is with her. She’ll call if they need you.”

“Hospitals are haunted. I keep the ghosts from bothering Elysia.” Necromancers tended to be ghost magnets. Elysia certainly was.

“Is she aware of the ghosts?”

“I don’t know. But it gives me a purpose.”

“I understand. Takeout it is.”


James stepped through the door of Elysia’s hospital room, the bag containing his burger and fries crinkling in his hand. His eyes were drawn to the narrow bed where Elysia lay, her position the same as when he left.

“Any change?” he asked Grams and Livie, who were already on their feet collecting their coats.

“No,” Grams answered with a sigh.

James had known what the answer would be. He had been listening to the steady rhythm of Elysia’s heart monitor as he came up the hall. It hadn’t changed, either.

Grams stepped forward and embraced him. “I’ll bring you back some real food when I return in the morning.”

“You don’t need to do that.” He returned the hug. Had she always been so thin? He hadn’t hugged her much before Elysia’s coma, so he couldn’t be sure. He released her, then helped her with her coat.

“Cooking relaxes me.” Grams smiled. “Call me if anything changes?”

“Of course.”

Livie stood by watching the exchange, her face scrunched with worry, but she smiled when Grams turned toward her. “Are we going straight home or do you want to stop by Grandfather’s?” As a powerful necromancer, Livie had the ability to travel to any point on the mortal plane via the land of the dead. James was glad Grams had Livie to shuttle her around. They lived an hour away.

“If Ian had found something, I’m sure he would be in touch,” Grams answered. “We’ll go straight home tonight.”

Livie agreed, and with a farewell, she opened a portal and led her grandmother from the room.

James smiled at the place where they had been. Livie had changed so much in the few months he had known her. The fourteen-year-old had never been shy, but now there was a mature confidence about her that hadn’t been there before. He knew a big part of it had to do with Ian teaching her to use her magic, but James didn’t like to give Ian credit for anything.

Sobering, James walked to Elysia’s bedside. Ian had offered to take the night shift. As a lich—a corpse with his consciousness still attached—Ian didn’t sleep. But James refused to abandon his post.

He brushed a strand of limp, blonde hair from Elysia’s forehead. It had only been a week since she had fallen into a coma, but it felt like so much longer.


He waited, but nothing changed. Not even an eyelid fluttered, and the heart monitor continued its soft, but steady rhythm.

“I’m here, Elysia Grace Mallory.”

Again, nothing changed. Was she so far under that she hadn’t felt the bond between them tighten when he said her name? No one could explain why she had fallen into a coma. It had been suggested that it was a healing mechanism that had kicked in after she had been forced to overuse her magic. But hadn’t it been long enough? Why wouldn’t she wake up?

James sighed and after a look at both the heart monitor and the screen displaying brain activity—he’d gotten more skilled at reading both—he left her bedside for his chair. A chemistry text lay on a nearby table. He really should finish his homework, but after the day he’d had, balancing chemical equations wasn’t all that appealing. Of course, the alternative was to sit here and dwell on all that had gone wrong.

He picked up the book and turned to where he’d left off. He managed about three problems before the exhaustion caught up with him. Normally, he shifted form to circumvent the need to sleep, and could watch over her from the veil. But tonight, he couldn’t seem to muster the strength to get to his feet and walk to the restroom to remove his clothes and change forms.

“Just a nap,” he told himself, leaning his head back. A short nap, and then he would change and watch over Ely, as he’d promised her grandmother.



Total darkness.

The inky blackness was so complete that adrenaline surged through his system and his heart pounded in his ears, drowning out the silence.

Both sensations were odd. He could normally see in total darkness, and he had no heartbeat.

The awareness didn’t break James from the grip of what he knew was a nightmare.

The fear was so visceral, so real. It all but consumed him. He blinked his eyes, struggling to see something. With each panicked breath, he smelled the dampness of earth and stone, and realized he must be underground. Locked away underground. Buried alive, like Ian had been. Exactly like Ian had been.

In the dream, he opened his mouth to call for help.

James! The name echoed around the hollow space, and the bond tightened.

Wait. He hadn’t shouted that. Elysia?

The shrill blare of an electronic alarm jerked James from sleep, and he was on his feet instantly, ready to face the threat. The hound rose to the surface and his skin tingled, preparing for the change. But as his sleep-hazed mind cleared, he recognized the futility of shifting into his other form.

The monitors around Elysia’s bed were going off. He could do nothing to remedy this situation as a hellhound. He couldn’t even help as a human.


Chapter 2

James clenched his fists and watched a half dozen medical professionals swarm around Elysia’s bed. The alarm was shut off, but that didn’t slow the frantic actions of the personnel attending her.

“What’s going on?” James demanded.

The nurse standing closest turned to face him. “You need to step out into the hall and—”

James pulled back his lips and growled.

She gasped, then abruptly turned and ran.

Damn. He struggled to tamp down his emotions so as not to expose his other self. It would do Elysia no good if he chased off all the people who could actually help her.

He pulled his phone from his pocket and called Doug.

“James?” Doug answered on the first ring.

“An alarm went off. There are people swarming her bed. I don’t know what’s happening.”

“Are you coming to get me?”

“I won’t leave. Call Ian.” James ended the call, not wanting to slow Doug with a good-bye.

He shoved his phone into his pocket, then raked his hand through his hair. The heart monitor beside her bed still registered a beating heart, though a little quicker than what it had been. The display that showed brain activity was also more active. What was going on? Elysia had been showing less activity, not more.

James felt a portal open close by and turned toward the door. An instant later, Doug hurried into the room, followed by Ian. Doug rushed to Elysia’s bedside, calling out questions to the medical personnel and getting answers filled with jargon James couldn’t follow. After a week, the nurses treated Doug like one of Elysia’s doctors.

“What happened?” Ian asked, stopping beside James.

“I don’t know. I was asleep and the monitors woke me.”

Ian grunted, frowning at the commotion around the bed. Now that the initial excitement was past, no one was even touching Elysia. They were more interested in the monitors and all the tubes and leads attached to her.

“When was the last time you slept?” Ian asked. “Really slept?”

“Sleep deprivation won’t kill me. I’m not leaving.” James growled the words.

“The lack of sleep might not kill you, but it certainly brings out the animal. I assume you’re the reason there’s a young nurse going into hysterics in the hall.”

James pulled back his lips, but somehow managed to stop the snarl that wanted to escape.


“I react to you like this whether I’ve slept or not.”

A slight smile dimpled Ian’s cheeks. “Then save your animosity for me and spare those who are here to help Elysia.”

James crossed his arms. He should have gone for Doug himself.

He turned to see what Doug was doing and noticed that everyone was leaving.

“No, you don’t need to call him,” Doug was saying to a nurse with the clipboard. “But leave him a note to call me.”

The nurse nodded and left the room.

“What happened?” James asked, now that they were alone.

“That’s what I want to ask you,” Doug answered. “Judging by the brain activity, it appears she might have risen to consciousness—or close to it.”

“She’s waking up?” James asked.

“I don’t know.” Doug glanced over at Elysia’s still form. “Whatever it was is gone now. I’ve been reading up on coma cases over the last week, and from what I understand, such fluctuations don’t necessarily mean anything.”

The heady surge of excitement faded away, leaving James keenly aware of his exhaustion.

“You said you were asleep,” Ian said. “Were you dreaming?”

James turned his frown on him. “What does that have to do with anything?”

“You’re bound to her. You told me she can call you out of a deep sleep.”

“Yes, she can call me. Not the other way around.”

“Yet I understand that the bond reacts when you say her name. She told me you were able to break my brother’s hold when you claimed her.”

James frowned. He didn’t like to be reminded of the time Elysia had been under Ian’s brother’s control. As a ghoul master, Alexander could possess the living. Fortunately, Ian had ended him.

“What were you dreaming about?” Ian asked. “Did you call to her?”

“I’ve tried that. I’ve been speaking her name everyday since she went under. She doesn’t respond.”

“Dreams are different. Did you feel you were in danger, or maybe that she was?”

“I…” James thought back, remembering the darkness and the all-encompassing fear.

“I think he might be onto something,” Doug said. “Can you tell us your dream? I promise we won’t judge you. Well, I won’t. And if Ian does, I’ll command him to put on a pink tutu and go sing I’m a Little Teapot on Fountain Square.”

Ian mouthed the words I’m a little teapot, his expression puzzled.

James smiled. “What can I do to make that happen?”

Doug’s dimples appeared as he grinned. It was eerie how much he resembled Ian when he smiled.

James grew serious. “I’m not balking because it’s something I don’t want to share. I was trying to remember. The monitor alarm kicked me out of sleep and made me ready to fight.”

“Does being startled awake always make you want to fight?” Doug asked. He seemed more curious than judgmental. James didn’t think he was accusing him of snarling like a startled dog.


“Then maybe something about the dream did. Sit down.” Doug gestured at the oversized chair where James spent a great deal of his time these days. “Close your eyes and see if you can recapture it. I usually remember the previous night’s dreams when I lie down to go to sleep.”

The soft beep of Elysia’s heart monitor had returned to its usual rhythm. James called the hound, letting its vision overlay his own. Elysia’s brilliant soul came into view. It was still firmly attached to her mortal body.

“James?” Doug prompted.

He sighed and returned to his chair. Closing his eyes, he let the rhythmic beeps lull him closer to sleep. It didn’t take much.

“Anything?” Doug asked, his tone soft.

“Darkness,” James answered. Doug was right. This was working. “It’s not the land of the dead. This is total darkness.” He remembered the fear that had overwhelmed him as he struggled to see something in that inky blackness.

“What else?” Doug asked.

“I don’t know. It’s odd. It terrifies me, but I’ve never been afraid of the dark. I can see in the dark.”

“Dreams are odd and rarely logical.”

“I know, but this…” He remembered shouting for help, but he’d called his own name and the bond responded. That’s when he had realized—

James gasped, opening his eyes to the bright light of the hospital room. “Oh God.” He shoved himself up out of the chair.

“James?” Ian asked.

“What is it?” Doug followed him as he hurried to Elysia’s bedside. “What’s wrong?”

James shoved the fingers of both hands into his hair, gripping the strands. “It wasn’t my dream; it was hers.”

“Has she sent you anything else since she’s been out?” Doug asked.

“Not that I’m aware of.”

“Or maybe she can’t get through unless he lowers his guard in sleep,” Ian suggested.

“She’s trapped,” James whispered. “In the dark. She likens it to the time Neil closed her up in your tomb.”

Ian crossed his arms, his brow wrinkling as he studied Elysia.

“Except, I don’t think it’s a dream,” James whispered. “It’s where she is right now. And she’s calling to me, like she did when she was closed up in that crypt. But she couldn’t reach me—until now.”

“Why?” Doug asked, his attention on the monitors.

“Because James has exhausted himself to the point where he can no longer keep her out,” Ian said.

“I’ve never tried to keep her out,” James said.

“It’s a natural defense,” Ian said. “Bonds are not natural. And despite what you feel for her, you will still instinctively resist the bond’s influence.”

“Then what do I do?” James gripped the bedrail. “I can’t leave her in the dark.” It was all he could do not to grab her by the shoulders and shake her. Make her see that she wasn’t locked away. That he was here.

Doug and Ian had fallen silent. James looked up and found them studying each other.

“What is it?” James asked.

“I think you should try,” Ian said to Doug.

“Try what?” James asked.

Doug’s brow furrowed, but he looked up, his blue eyes meeting James’s. “If she can reach you through the bond you share, then I might be able to reach her the same way.”

“Through the bond she created when she reaped your soul.”

Doug stared at him. “You know?”

“I surmised. When Elysia saved Addie’s life, a bond was formed. I assumed it worked the same way when she saved you.” Though James had been hoping he was wrong. Hearing that Doug really was bound to her made James want to punch him—even if he wasn’t to blame.

“I had nothing to do with it,” Doug said, perhaps picking up on James’s reaction. “I can’t form bonds with the living.”

James forced down the irrational anger, trying to focus on the positive. “But you can use a bond if it exists.”

“I’m good with bonds. I can hide them from other necromancers, and once, I took one.”

“You took a soul bond from another necromancer?” James didn’t like the sound of that.

“Did you use your blood?” Ian asked Doug.

“Of course not. I don’t have a blood gift.”

Ian’s brows rose. “Yet you took another’s lich?”

“No. I took its place.”

Ian stared at him.

“What happened?” James asked.

“When I was sixteen, there was a necromancer who went bad. Unfortunately, he was strong enough to Make. Father captured one of his liches, and in the process of interrogating her, I got the bright idea to try to track her Maker through the bond. I don’t know if I could have done it on my own, but Father killed the lich just as I made contact, and the bond transferred to me.” Doug rolled his wide shoulders. “For the next four days, I had this psychopath in my head whispering suggestions.”

“He possessed you?”

“No, he only spoke to me. I was one hundred percent in control, but the things he talked about… I still have nightmares.”

As always, Doug’s openness surprised James. “What happened?”

“I let him think I was falling under his spell. He knew I was the Deacon’s son and that I would be a prize kill for him. So we lured him in.”

“Your father used you as bait?” James wasn’t surprised.

“I guess.” Doug turned to Ian. “So I can’t really say if I took the bond. And after that experience, I never tried again.”

“I’ve never heard of such a thing,” Ian said. “If you’d permit me, I’d like to test your blood.”

“Can we do this later?” James asked. “And I don’t see how any of this will help Elysia.”

“Do I have your permission to try?” Doug asked.

Once again, Doug surprised him. James wanted to point out that he and Elysia didn’t even have a relationship. What right did James have to grant permission? But he couldn’t admit that to Doug.

“Go ahead,” James said, not completely sure what he was allowing Doug to do.

Doug nodded, frowning down at Elysia. He took a breath and released it. “Here goes,” he whispered and closed his eyes.

James glanced between him and Elysia, waiting for…something. Doug’s brow wrinkled, but he looked more puzzled than anything else. Time slipped past while Elysia’s heart monitor beeped steadily in the background.

“Ely? Can you hear me?” Doug asked, his eyes still closed. A silent moment passed and he sighed. “Nothing.”

“Addie says Elysia can only speak to her, not the other way around.”

“Some necromancers, especially the more powerful, have a talent for telepathy,” Ian said. “It’s not a feature of the bond. Elysia uses the link to communicate only to that person. Doug and Addie are not telepathic.”

James frowned. That made sense.

“But you are,” Ian said.

James looked up, meeting his gaze. “Only in my true form.”

“Are you certain?”

“You never hear any of the things I think at you.”

Ian smiled, unoffended as always.

Doug was frowning at Elysia, but lifted his eyes to James. “I would like to try one more thing.”

“Okay. What?”

“I’m going to try to take your bond from her.”

James bit back a snarl. “Why?”

“Because she won’t like it. Maybe she’ll rise to consciousness enough to fight to hold onto you. And once she makes the connection, perhaps you can call her back.”

“I’m not certain this is wise,” Ian spoke up. “She’s a soul reaper, and she’s already tethered your soul,” he told Doug. “She might go after you instead of connecting to James.”

Doug didn’t look away. “I have to try. James is right. We can’t leave her in the dark.” His voice dropped to a whisper at the end.

Ian rubbed a hand over his face, but instead of answering Doug, he turned to James. “Your call.”

“Why is it my call?” James asked. Doug was the one risking his life, and Ian had never given James any say with regard to what was best for Elysia.

“Because, there’s another possible outcome if this doesn’t work: you become Doug’s.”

James frowned. Now there was an uncomfortable thought.

“That’s not my intent,” Doug said.

“I know.” James gazed down at Elysia, remembering her terror. “Do it.”

Doug gave him a single nod and once more closed his eyes.

James gripped the bed rail, glancing from Doug to Elysia and back again. What would it feel like if Doug took the bond? He remembered when Elysia initially bound him. She had literally implanted a bit of her own soul within him, linking him to her at the deepest level. He did not want to have that with Doug.

He opened his mouth to ask Doug if it was working when he felt something change. Before he could analyze the sensation, Elysia flooded his senses. Her scent, the taste of her blood, and her raw fear.

James! Elysia’s mental voice shouted in his mind.

“I’m here!” James reached for her.

Her first movement in a week, she threw back her head and screamed.


Chapter 3

The monitor alarms were going off again, but James barely heard them. He sprang up on Elysia’s bed and straddling her body, gripped her shoulders to try to hold her in place as she began to thrash. She arched her back, her hands fisting the sheets as she screamed again.

“Elysia,” Doug said. “I know you can feel the morgue from here. Use it.”

Suddenly James understood. She had been in a coma for a week, unable to release the tension on her soul, as all necromancers must. And for a powerful necromancer like her, the pain would be extreme.

“She doesn’t need a corpse,” James growled. “She has one.” He leaned in closer. “Elysia Grace Mallory, make me yours.”

Her back came off the bed with another scream, but this time, her soul slammed into him. And it just kept coming. So much life. Now it was James’s back that arched, and he cried out, though it wasn’t in pain. His senses were overloaded with her. But at the same time she fed him life, she reached through him, beyond him, following the link between them to his soul, where it resided beyond the mortal plane. Then she pulled him to her.

James snarled. His skin tingled like he was about to change—no, as if he was about to be ripped open. Ebony claws burst from his fingertips, but these were not the short black claws that took the place of his fingernails when he called the hound close. These were the claws that belonged to his true form. The mesh of hellhound and human that could only exist in the land of the dead, where the two were one.

Dark fur sprang from his forearms, and his jaw erupted in pain as it felt like his skin suddenly couldn’t contain it. James threw back his head and something between a scream and a howl erupted from his throat.

“Elysia, stop!” Doug shouted. “You’re hurting him. You’re hurting James. Let him go!”

For an instant, James thought she didn’t hear; then she was gone. Completely. The pain and the total absence of her presence sucked the strength from his joints, and he collapsed, squeezed between her and the bed rail.

The monitors continued to blare, then one abruptly cut out.

Alarmed, James pushed himself up on one elbow. “Elysia?”

She gasped, then blinked a few times as if trying to focus on his face. “James,” she whispered.

Relief flooded his body at the sound of her voice. “Yes.” He held her gaze with his own. Her irises were completely white, though she wasn’t using her magic.

James was vaguely aware of a nurse as she moved from monitor to monitor, shutting off the alarms.

“You found me,” Elysia whispered, her eyes holding his.


A smile touched her pale lips, and then her eyes slid closed.

“Doug?” James asked.

Doug was studying the nearest monitor, but he was smiling. “She’s back.”

James looked down at Elysia where she lay beside him. “Good.” More medical personnel were pouring into the room, but James let Doug handle them. He could no longer fight the exhaustion, and slipped into sleep, Elysia still pressed against him.


James became aware of voices and sunlight at the same time. The now familiar scent of the hospital oriented him. Had he fallen asleep in the chair in Elysia’s room?

He blinked his eyes into focus and found Addie standing over him.

She grinned. “You know, when people tell you to find a room, this isn’t what they mean.”

“Funny,” Elysia answered, her voice soft and rough.

James pushed himself up on one elbow and found that he still lay in the narrow hospital bed with Elysia pressed close against him. She had wrapped one arm around his waist, her hand beneath the hem of his T-shirt and her warm palm against his back. But that wasn’t the only invasion of his personal space. She had also fed him her soul. Perhaps not as much as the night before, but still enough that James was powerfully aware of her—and the fact that they weren’t alone.

“Ely,” he whispered, leaning closer. “You’re going to cause me to embarrass myself.”

“I’ve got coma breath anyway.”

He laughed despite the discomfort. She really was back. “I meant your soul,” he whispered. “You’re sharing.”

She blinked. “Oh, sorry.” She withdrew, then rolled away from him. Was she hurting?

He gripped her shoulder. “I’ll deal with it. Go ahead, use me.”

“No,” she whispered. “It only makes it worse. I just need to adjust.”

Her admission was a stark reminder to the true nature of their relationship—or the lack thereof. What was he thinking? He sat up and scooted away from her.

The bedrail behind James clanked and lowered. He looked over his shoulder and found Rowan responsible.

He climbed from the bed and with a glance at Elysia, walked out into the hall. Ian had advised him repeatedly to stay away from her and not let her use her magic on him. Should he leave entirely to remove the temptation?

“James?” Rowan had followed him into the hall. “What’s wrong?”

“She was sharing her soul with me.” He glanced toward the door to her room. “She’s not supposed to use her magic on me. Ian says she should only animate the long dead. Bodies with little humanity left.”

“You’re not exactly human.”

James ignored that. “She’ll need to go home soon, to her grandmother’s. There’s a cemetery there.”

Rowan sighed. “Ian may not be right.”

James gritted his teeth. He didn’t need this right now. “I’d rather err on the side of caution.”

“You’re growling.”

James took a breath and released it. Rowan was just trying to help. “Sorry.” He turned and paced away, then returned to Rowan, unable to stand still.

“Perhaps you should head back to the manor and meditate.” Rowan had been helping James master his emotions the same way Rowan worked to master his own. Meditation and workouts did help James with things like anxiety and anger. But this was different.

“Won’t work.” James paced past him. “I need to change and go for a run.”

Rowan clasped his arm on the next pass. “Giving in to the animal won’t help you control it.”

James smiled, aware that his teeth weren’t exactly human. “It’s not the animal side of my nature that’s the problem right now.”

Rowan glanced toward the door to Elysia’s room and his brows lifted.

“Yes,” James said, lowering his voice. “Her soul, her scent, her blood—it’s an aphrodisiac to me. And I’m a poison to her.”

Rowan released him. “Go on. Addie and I will stay with her until her grandmother gets here.”

James raked his hands through his hair. “Doug said she could feel the morgue from here. Remind her if it gets to be too much.”

“Those aren’t long-dead corpses.”

“They’re safer for her than I am.” James turned and hurried away.


James had left Rowan with the intent of leaving the hospital, but found himself walking the now familiar corridors instead. It was no surprise that he ended up at the observation window outside the NICU. He had spent a lot of time here.

The baby Elysia longed to adopt lay sleeping in his incubator. It was so nice to see him free of the respirator and assorted tubes and wires that had been the norm since his premature birth two months ago. Then, he had weighed just under two pounds, and every day was a fight for survival. Now, at just shy of four pounds, his skin was a healthy pink, he was breathing on his own, and eating like he meant it. Provided his oxygen levels remained stable, he would get to go home soon. The question was: where was home?

“I thought I might find you here,” Addie said from beside him. Preoccupied with his own thoughts, he hadn’t noticed her arrival.

“How’s Elysia?” he asked.

“Grams and Livie just arrived—with Doug. They’re working on getting her released.”


Addie took his hand. “You okay?”

He knew what she was asking, but he skirted the question. “She’s awake. Now she can get better.”

Addie gave his hand a squeeze. “Drive me back to the lab, and we can get started on that right now.”

“What about Rowan?”

She pulled out her phone. “I’ll let him know where I went.”

“You need to move past this thing with Doug.” Since Addie’s involvement in Doug’s father’s death, she had been avoiding him.

“It’s too soon. He needs more time.”

“More time to let bad feelings fester? Beyond that, I know how this sort of thing bothers you.”

She frowned, but didn’t comment as she sent Rowan a text. “Okay. Let’s get back to the lab. I’ve been considering another approach.” She turned and walked toward the elevators.

He knew she was trying to entice him, but that didn’t stop him from being intrigued. They could discuss her problem with Doug later.

“What do you have in mind?” He fell in beside her as she launched into an in-depth description of her latest plans. He couldn’t help but smile as she spared him none of the technical details. If only he could take a college class in alchemy. But he needed to learn the basics before he could master the craft. After all, Addie had been a chemist before the magic returned.

She was still discussing her ideas when they reached his car in the parking garage.

He pulled out his keys and stopped beside his black Charger. He was about to unlock the doors when the hairs on the back of his neck rose.

“Get down,” he said, calling the hound.

“What is it?” Addie didn’t heed him—no surprise.

He gripped her shoulder and pushed her down into a squat beside him as he scanned the garage, looking for souls.

“What is it?” she repeated in a low voice, glancing around them.

“We’re being watched.”

“I don’t see anyone.”

He didn’t, either—not with his normal vision or the hound’s. Goosebumps rose along his forearms. Had his brothers followed him from the murder scene? And a more disturbing thought: had they marked the kill so obviously their own in hopes that he would be called to help investigate it?

“James?” Addie gripped his wrist.

“I think George and Henry are here.”


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