Sneak Peek! Magic of the Vampire Book One: Love / Luck

Here's the first chapter of Magic of the Vampire Book One: Love / Luck. I hope you enjoy!

Dreamer’s Log: Margaret

Day Ten of October, Year 1665

Last night I dreamed great change was upon us, and that today I would kill the devil.

I was to dip my fingers into dust made of magic, and then reach into the devil’s chest and take purchase of his cold, still heart. I was to drag him down into slumber with me, and by force compel his unnatural soul into the oblivion beyond the aether. I was to obliterate his essence and sever his tether to Earth. I was to rid the world of his evil, forever and ever!

But today, when I arrived at the place where his body had fallen, no sign of him remained.

I still have his magic dust, and in my possession it will remain, for should he reclaim it, the world would be lost again. I have put the dust in a silver pouch and hidden the pouch inside a dream, where no demon can find it. There it will stay until the king of hell himself comes to demand it of me.

I have no doubt he will, for without it, he is nothing.

****

CHAPTER ONE

My great-grandmother gave me my first pair of silver earrings when I was born. They were finely wrought four-leaf clovers, and I still wore them on my earlobes.

Grams believed that clover was lucky, and she liked to tell people she was Irish, but as far back as anyone can remember, my family has never lived anywhere in Europe. I think we’d need to go back a couple hundred years to find the origins of our “Irish” blood, and I’ve told Grams that more than once. Most days I tried hard not to say things that might end in an argument—despite our differences, Grams was everything to me and the only family I had—but we were both genetically predisposed to speaking our minds without first considering the consequences.

Grams and I lived in a compact two-bedroom house on the far outskirts of a small town a little way north of Byron Bay, in the east-coast subtropics of Australia. Grams didn’t much like the heat, but we’d moved here when I was twelve, right after my mother died, and she insisted it was where she wanted to be. I wasn’t in love with the sun myself, thanks to my textbook Irish coloring—ivory skin that couldn’t tolerate UV and copper hair that would never look sun-bleached—but I didn’t want to move either. It wasn’t as though I’d grown used to the heat in the last five years. I just kind of liked having a convenient excuse to be moody and miserable.

Today was going to be particularly uncomfortable, I could tell. It was only eight a.m. and already too warm. I stood in the tiny bathroom Grams and I shared, feeling momentarily refreshed after a cool shower. Dressed in my usual denim shorts and a loose-fitting tee, I swiped a slick of sunscreen across my nose and then pulled my long, heavy hair off my neck. I held it there with one hand while I used the other to grope around in the drawers for an elastic band.

“Riley?” Grams’s reedy voice was punctuated by the light rap of her swollen knuckles on the other side of the closed bathroom door.

“Come in,” I said, my fingers finally catching on a band stuck in the far corner of the bottom drawer. I pulled it out, and then deftly twisted and secured my hair into a loose knot at the top of my head.

The door creaked on its hinges as Grams pushed it open. Neither she nor I knew our way around a toolbox, so things like stiff hinges, broken doorknobs, and flaking wall paint were domestic realities to which we’d become accustomed.

Grams’s lined face smiled at my reflection in the vanity mirror. She reached up to stroke the silver clovers on my ears. “The luck of the Irish,” she said.

I grabbed her hand and firmly returned it to her side.

Grams’s belief in things like lucky earrings irritated me, and while I tolerated her eccentricities, I never actively encouraged them. And yes, I wore the silver clover studs to keep Grams happy, but they weren’t the only jewelry decorating my ears—and the other pieces were all for me.

I had the one piercing in my right ear, but six in my left: two extra studs in the lobe, a sleeper in the tragus, a cuff on the auricle, and another stud on the helix. All silver. Most people assumed they were a sartorial act of teenage rebellion, but that really wasn’t the case. Grams liked them—encouraged them, even. She herself had six rings in each earlobe and a stud in her nose.

Grams was an odd one. She was incredibly superstitious, obsessed with silver jewelry, and preoccupied with dreams, and, although it was all nonsense, I suspected it was Grams’s quirks that had kept her alive this long. She couldn’t die if she had to be here to protect me, heathen that I was, from those pesky demonic predators who hunted in the night.

“Did I hear someone at the door?” I asked, changing the subject.

“Finn just arrived.”

“Finn’s here?”

I snatched up my toothbrush and frantically foamed up my mouth. I usually met my best friend at school on weekday mornings, so his appearance here at this hour on a Monday was unexpected.

Grams’s eyes crinkled above a knowing smile, and I ignored her.

“Finn, yes, and Harry, and a few…others,” she said. “They’re here for an early Monday meeting.”

I spat into the sink, cupped my hands to collect the water from the faucet, and rinsed out my mouth to give me a few extra seconds to moderate my response.

I’d hated Mondays since I was twelve, and not for the reasons most people hate them—well, not entirely the same. The first day of the school week was designed to always suck, but my reasons were more complicated than that.

Even as a kid, I knew people thought my Grams was weird. When we moved here, I thought the upside would be we could start over. Act normal. I never could have predicted that Grams would find a bunch of people as bent on superstition as she was, but that’s just what she did. The moving truck had barely left the driveway by the time Grams had sniffed out the name of someone nearby who believed in all the same weird stuff she loved: silver charms, dream-reading, fortune-telling, and demon-mongering. That person knew others like him, and soon word got around that Old Maggie Quinn had moved to the neighborhood, and she was the person to go to for all things woo. Grams had set up a regular Monday meeting soon after that, and now once a week my home became the headquarters for every loon in town.

It was only days later that I started at the local school, where I’d met Finn. We bonded instantly because, to his extreme frustration, that first guy Grams had found was Finn’s dad, Harry, and all the others like him were the people in Finn’s family.

If anyone despised Mondays as much as I did, it was Finn.

“Right,” I said curtly. I threw my hairbrush into a drawer and pecked Grams on the cheek. Sliding around her, I collected my schoolbag from the hallway floor and dashed to the staircase.

Finn waited for me at the bottom, smiling widely as usual. His straight white teeth were bright against his sun-darkened skin, and I let myself admire his face for a brief moment. Everything about him was my opposite. His blonde hair had lightened over the summer, thanks to day after day spent in the surf, his broad shoulders were bronzed, and his eyes were warm and brown. I always felt paler, softer, and moodier standing in the shadow of his golden skin, toned arms, and sunshine smile.

I leaped over the last two steps and landed with a thud beside him, and he wrapped me in a hug that made my ribs creak.

“Back to school, finally!” he said with bogus cheer. “Are we excited?”

He dropped his arms, and I bared my teeth in an equally phony smile. “Sure. Can’t you tell?”

“Riley-Rae, we’ve been friends since seventh grade. I know you better than you know yourself. Your face says, ‘kill me now,’ but inside, you’re all about the happy dance. Tell me I’m wrong.”

He grinned at me because he already knew my answer, and I rolled my eyes. Finn did know me better than anyone else, almost as well as he thought he did. School wasn’t my favorite place to be, and there wasn’t much about today that I was looking forward to.

“You’re wrong,” I confirmed, and then I looked up at him with sad eyes and a furrowed brow. “Can’t we skip today? I’ve got a great book weighing down my backpack. We could pick up some food, sneak into somewhere with air-conditioning?”

“And miss the first day back?” Finn shook his head. “Let’s save your excellent plan for later in the year, okay?”

I’d expected his answer, so I dropped the pathetic expression and shrugged noncommittally.

Finn cared less about school than I did, barely passed his classes, and only showed enthusiasm when it was time to play sports, but for some reason, he insisted I take my education seriously. He was convinced I was destined for university or something, and despite his own clear lack of study ethic, all the teachers loved him because he was just so beautiful—in every sense of the word. Any girl in our school would trip, then step over, their best friend to get their hands on him.

I led the way down our short hallway, planning to zoom past the living room with a vague wave in that direction, but I froze before I reached the front door.

When Grams had said there were others here besides Finn and his father, Harry, I’d assumed she’d meant the extended O’Brien family—and there were a lot of them. And yes, our small living room was crowded, as I had expected it to be, but something was different today. The buzz of Grams’s usually rowdy group was muted—everybody spoke so quietly there was barely a hum of conversation—and there were too many people I didn’t recognize. That by itself was unusual enough, because everyone knew everyone else in our small town and the tourists were easy to pick out, but the unfamiliarity of these people wasn’t the oddest thing about them.

The strangers were three men and one woman, all dressed in clothes too long and dark to suit our local weather. Their skin was pale—paler than mine, if that was possible—and all had glossy hair in barely varied shades of deep, dark brown. The oldest of the four had gray streaks at his temples.

As I hovered awkwardly in the doorway, every one of those strangers looked up, and four carefully composed, impossibly perfect faces considered me without speaking a word. Each pair of eyes was so dark, they looked almost black.

I stood there, confusion and discomfort rooting me to the spot, until Grams jostled me a little as she shuffled past, and I closed my mouth with an audible click.

I didn’t like to use language my great-grandmother would approve of, but even I could sense the energy in the room, and I had the uncomfortable feeling I’d interrupted something.

I took an involuntary step backward and landed on Finn’s toes. He’d stepped up close behind me to get his own look at Grams’s guests, and now he glared at them over my head, the muscles in his jaw feathering with tension.

“Ah, Riley,” Grams said, extending her hand to invite me into the room. I took a slow step forward, and then another, reaching Grams in a few more steps. I took her hand, and she grasped my fingers tightly.

Finn stayed where he was, arms folded across his chest.

“Riley,” Grams repeated. “I’d like you to meet some new acquaintances. Perry Callaghan, his sons Leo and Noel, and their friend, Adeline Bennet.”

The visitors nodded in turn as Grams called their names. Perry was the oldest of the four—about the same age as Finn’s dad, maybe a few years his senior—but still handsome. Leo and Noel must have been at least five years older than me, and both had big shoulders and wide chests. They looked so alike they had to be twins. Adeline, with her masses of wavy hair, long dark lashes, and delicate, impeccably proportioned features, eyed me coolly. She seemed particularly offended by my earrings, her gaze returning more than once to take inventory of my left ear. She wore no jewelry of her own that I could see. Adeline looked a similar age to the younger men, and she sat nearest to Noel. My suspicions about their closeness were confirmed when he reached out and took her hand in a gesture that struck me as an attempt to reassure her.

“Hello,” I said lamely, not understanding the vibe in the room. I’d come to expect the quirks in character and unconventional behaviors typical of the people Grams liked to associate with, and I was no longer surprised when I found her chanting, or translating the meanings of dreams, or handing out the silver jewelry she made with her own arthritic hands, but this…this was different.

“Hello, Riley,” Perry replied, nodding politely. His lips were pink and plump, and his white teeth glistened behind them as he spoke. “It’s very good to meet you. Your grandmother has told me so much about you.”

His words seemed to hiss very slightly, as though he had a lisp or something. It wasn’t unpleasant in the least, and I found myself waiting for him to speak again so I could listen for the sound. He watched me with expectation.

“Ah, that’s nice,” I said finally, disappointed that he hadn’t said more. My eyes traveled over his lips and teeth as I tried to work out how he could form such soft, pleasing sounds, and the corners of his mouth curved up in a perceptive smile. My heart sped up, and I flushed slightly in embarrassment.

Finn took a sudden step into the room, and all heads swung in his direction.

Harry’s bass voice rumbled around the room. “Perry and his family share our interests in dreams and demons,” he said, his eyes locked on his son. “They have new ideas about things—interesting ideas. We might be able to learn something.”

Something in Harry’s words must have penetrated Finn’s mood, because my friend dropped his arms and looked at me. “Come on, Rae,” he said, his nonchalance sounding forced. “We’re going to be late for school.”

I gave Grams’s hand one last squeeze, avoided looking at anyone else, and followed Finn out the door.

He took off at a decent pace and I had to quicken my step to keep up. I cast one final look over my shoulder, back toward the house, but there was no telling from the outside that anything weird was going on behind the old, cladded walls. The sensation of discomfort that had hung heavy in the room now clung to my skin, and it wasn’t easy to shake it off. I couldn’t understand why I should feel both reluctant and relieved to leave those beautiful, baffling people behind.

————

It usually took me a full twenty minutes to walk to school, but I did it every day unless the weather was bad. I could have taken a shorter, duller route through the neighborhood, but I always chose to detour through the bushland. The walk was nice, sure, but what I appreciated more was the extra delay it added to the start of my day.

It was impossible to concentrate on the hike and keep up a conversation at the same time, so Finn and I crunched our way over the dry leaves in companionable silence, emerging from the trees at what was the unmarked border of the school grounds. By then, my thoughts had snarled up nice and tight, and I was busting to ask Finn why he’d been so weird with Grams’s visitors.

“What was that all about?” I demanded.

“What was what all about?”

“The way you behaved with those people. You were upset.”

“I misread the situation, that’s all.”

I had no reason to doubt him, but Finn’s answer was a little superficial. I tried again, hunting for something with more juice to it.

“Not the normal crowd for Grams’s Monday group, are they?”

He gave me a wry look. “Since when have Grams or Harry been known for being normal? It’s more of the same, Rae. I bet the new guys bail soon, anyway.”

“Why would you think that?”

“They didn’t seem very happy to be here,” he pointed out.

He was right. Nobody seemed happy to be in that room today. I chewed my lip as I turned Finn’s words over in my head, but nothing new occurred to me in the minute or so I had to spare before we reached the school buildings.

I judged the distance between us and the campus—thirty seconds at this pace, max—and then pointedly eyed Finn’s tanned, muscled arms, on show because he’d chosen to wear a sleeveless shirt today.

“Since when is that considered appropriate attire for school?” I asked archly, nodding in the direction of his chest.

He laughed and swung his backpack around so he could fish out a clean shirt. He dropped his bag and I stopped too, so I could watch him peel away his damp tank top.

Yes, okay, fine. Most of the time, I totally judged all those girls who’d murder their best friends to score a date with Finn O’Brien, but some days I had to count myself among them. He was that glorious.

“Checking out the abs?” he teased with a knowing chuckle.

“You wish,” I retorted, flushing scarlet and shoving against his chest. My feeble attack didn’t budge him an inch, and he laughed harder.

I rolled my eyes and stomped away. Finn caught up to me quickly, slinging his heavy arm over my shoulder and pulling me into his side so we were walking almost on top of each other. He smelled like soap and clean sweat, and the heat of his body felt nice, even with the humidity in the air, but his teasing had embarrassed me, so I shrugged him off and lengthened my stride.

“Okay, I’ll see you at lunch then!” he called brightly, ignoring my pique as I took off to my first class.

He knew exactly how to infuriate me, and I didn’t reply.

Some days, I didn’t know if I wanted to date Finn because I was too busy trying not to kill him.


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