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SNEAK PEEK OF LONG WITCH NIGHT (Spoilers for Book 1)

Sequel to A Witch Called Red (Find on Amazon Here)

Chapter One

December 15th, 5:35PM, Los Angeles, California

Sunset shone over the Hollywood Hills into the bay windows of the living room. A golden hue was cast over the white piano, cream throw pillows, and a mix of antique and modern furniture. The coziness would make an Instagram influencer sigh.

Latin chanting broke the illusion.

Hoc non est tibi. Suus tempus abire tibi est. Relinquam in pace. Reliqua,” Red recited the exorcism at a specter who had overstayed their welcome. Just another day for a hunter’s intern in the Brotherhood of Bards and Heroes.

The furious pinks of the sunset landed on a bowl of holy water and a blessed silver cross on the coffee table. Red held the battered leather journal higher to block the reflected light. It was easier to ignore than the celebrity looking over her shoulder.  

Vic Constantine whizzed past behind her in his wheelchair, holding a bundle of sage in one hand and a stick of Palo Santo in the other. The Korean hunter didn’t look like your standard New Ager. Watchful brown eyes narrowed as he glanced around the white living room. He wore his fancy outfit, his shaggy black mullet slicked back and a blazer over his Led Zeppelin T-shirt. Usually, the hunter wore denim on denim and called it a day.

He’d been hunting for over a decade but had never done a job for a movie star.

With the eight-year gap in her memories, Red was clueless about recent popular culture. It was her worst category at pub trivia. Yet even as Amnesia Girl, she had heard about Nevaeh Morgan. It was hard to escape the blond starlet’s face smiling from magazine covers in truck stops and convenience stores.

Red would rather focus on the dark, shadowy spirit in the corner. She was used to ghosts. Famous people, not so much.

“Did y’all feel it get colder in here? Or is it just me?” Nevaeh rubbed her neck, pushing her blond hair off her shoulder. She shifted in her designer dress.

Her husband, introduced as Steve but known to the world as DJ Shake, put an arm around her. Visible goosebumps rose on his dark skin below his rolled-up beige cashmere sleeves. His brown eyes widened. “It’s not just you, baby.”

“We aren’t alone.” Red concentrated on the figure in the corner. With her nearsighted third eye, she couldn’t see more than that it was tall. On the other hand, she felt the trauma spiking off it.

Red might have been a witch, but she’d picked up her few magic skills on the streets. Other witches might have been able to clearly see the spirit’s form and other traces of paranormal activity in the room because of proper training. She saw elusive smudges in the air of varying colors, unless something wanted her to see it.

Obviously, this ghost was shy.

According to their celebrity clients, it hadn’t been last night. DJ Shake told them with a repressed quaver how the spirit had run screaming into their bedroom. The ghost has been bold enough to show sound and fury then. 

Vic joined her in the chant, reciting the words from memory.

“Hey, I thought I said that if it was going to get freaky, they couldn’t go all Old Priest and Young Priest in here?” DJ Shake tried to keep his voice gruff as befitting a rising West Coast rapper. The cover-up was more obvious than the temperature drop. It wasn’t little blonde Nevaeh who had dialed up some ghost busters. He had been the one to call Quinn Investigations. “They need to take the Amityville Horror outside.”

“They can’t, handsome. It’s a ghost, not a mouse.” Nevaeh’s Southern accent grew stronger from her fear. “They’re trying to send him into the light.”

Red felt her attention flicker as her own words slowed.

“Don’t stop, Red.” Vic warned before he turned to the clients. “Hey, this is a standard cleansing. We need to focus.”

The shadowy ghost in the corner began to take human shape. The chains on his wrists appeared first. Long loops of spectral metal drooped to the floor. A middle-aged black man in white Antebellum clothes, rough and poorly made, stepped forward. Deathly weariness cut deep wrinkles into the man’s forehead above his darting eyes.

“Vic, are you seeing this too?” Red asked over her shoulder.

Nevaeh screamed.

“Everyone is seeing it.” Shoulders squared and jaw clenched, Vic set the already extinguished Palo Santo stick on the coffee table. He rolled forward in his electric wheelchair.

Red swapped the journal for his sage bundle. There was a reason she was still an intern. She took too long for simple cleansings. Vic had way more experience. “Let’s get some true faith up in here then.”

Even as the air grew colder than Los Angeles had any right to be, the situation didn’t feel dangerous. Red could tell after a year of monster hunting that the spirit was one of those souls trapped between this world and the next. He had appeared when the couple bought an antique candlestick set salvaged from an abandoned Tennessee farmhouse.

“Is he—” DJ Shake stumbled over his words. “He’s a slave.”

The chained man opened his mouth to speak, his jowls trembling. His squinted gaze traveled over them to land first on Nevaeh and then on DJ Shake. He shook his chained hands, yelling harder. His words might have boomed in the spirit plane, but they weren’t even a whisper for the living.

Vic chanted, his eyes focused on the ghost. Sweat beaded on his brow. He repeated the Latin banishment.

Red leaned down. This was taking too long. Vic usually could bless confused spirits into the beyond with the best of them. She whispered so the clients couldn’t hear. “He’s getting stronger.”

“I see that!” Vic snapped. He chanted louder.

The spirit glided toward DJ Shake. His chains scraped against the wood floors. The glow emanating from his face highlighted the whites of his rolling eyes. He tried to raise his hands, but even in death the chains stopped him.

“What are you trying to tell me, brother?” DJ Shake stretched his arms out between Vic and the spirit. “Stop!”

Vic only lowered his voice.

Red looked over Vic’s shoulder at the book and started to chant the cleansing spell under her breath along with him. A spirit manifested to this degree could become unpredictable. They could either have a touching scene connecting two men across centuries or have a poltergeist trying to choke them with his chains.

The ghost rumbled a trembling echo as if dragged out of the beyond with all his might, yet his voice skipped like an old CD. The last words came out in a boom. “You… suffer… SELF… FREE!”

“Yes, brother. Freedom. We’re all free. Lincoln did it.” DJ Shake rested his hand on the spirit’s shoulder as if it was flesh and bone instead of spectral matter.

Nevaeh called out from behind her husband. “You can be, too. Go into the light, friend!”

With an unearthly clatter, the chains fell off the spirit’s wrists, disappearing as they hit the ground. The long-dead slave looked down at his freed wrists. He stuck out his hand to DJ Shake.

DJ Shake pulled the ghost into a hug. “You’re free, brother. Free!”

Red spoke the last line of the cleansing along with Vic. Releasing a deep breath, she wiped sweat off her brow. She lowered her sage, tension fading from her shoulders, smiling at the Haunted Hallmark moment.

A golden glow brighter than the sunset radiated in the living room before dissipating in a flash.

DJ Shake blinked down at his empty arms. He sniffed, biting at his lip.

“Oh Steve, you did it! You put that poor soul to rest!” Nevaeh wrapped around her husband’s waist, nuzzling her head into his shoulder.

Vic’s lips turned down. His cheeks hollowed and he bit back his natural sarcasm as he sat up on the edge of his wheelchair seat. They had heard that kind of talk before a private client decided to run out on a bill. This was why he preferred bounties from the Brotherhood of Bards and Heroes. The Brotherhood always paid up.

Smiling, Red whispered into Vic’s ear. “Don’t worry, they paid in advance.”

Vic sank back in his wheelchair. “Then let’s get this over with before they start taking post-exorcism selfies.” He went to speak to the couple to give them the sage and post-haunting directions.

Red was happy to be the intern when it came to clients, even if it meant lugging the supplies.  

She gathered up the cross and put the journal in her leather hunter’s kit. A lingering presence of magic remained, but Red wasn’t worried. Vic did the exorcism, after all.

Usually ghosts didn’t leave a stain, but she could imagine a tormented slave had more than its fair share of unfinished business. Paranormal activity could leave a residue. It was a lot of money and effort for an antique candlestick set.

Red bit her lip as she looked at the brass candelabra on a bookshelf. Cute, but she wouldn’t brave a ghost for it. Hopefully, the famous couple had learned their lesson: buy new.

Haunted furniture aside, Red liked how cozy the room looked. The gold records and framed posters of Nevaeh’s movies popped in the otherwise white and cream decor. It made her want to do something more with her place, even if her views were of the parking lot. She had been slowly adding personal touches to her landlord-furnished apartment that she shared with Vic, but two months in, there were still stock photographs in the hanging picture frames. After over a year on the road, Red had the urge to nest.

Something fluttered in the corner of her vision. Red squinted at the open archway to a dining room.

The dark mass that made up the head did not have eyes, yet it watched the young couple hugging in the center of the room. It felt different from the other spirit. Only curiosity stemmed from it. Then the faceless shadow turned.

Red felt the unseen probing stare like demanding fingers.

It recognized her.

Chapter Two

December 15th, 6:05PM, Los Angeles, California

Red stared into the void.

The void smiled back. It didn’t have a face, but it had a presence. Indistinct shades of churning shadows hovered shapeless yet sentient between the living and the dining rooms. It stared at her like it knew her.

She stepped back, realization drying her mouth.

Billowing smoke split the air between them. The void disappeared.

Vic wheeled ahead of Nevaeh Morgan and DJ Shake, burning sage held high, instructing them on perimeter cleanses. The two celebrities walked past the archway with smoking sage.

Red cocked her head, eyes darting. She squinted, trying to see auras, but it only made her regular sight blurry. Paranoia chilled her hands. Red knew it was her imagination. Weak shades were repelled by smudging. She hurried anyway, packing up the other hunter’s kit and getting out of the house.

The last hint of the sun disappeared over the Pacific. City lights reflected on the dark smoggy sky. Not a single heavenly star could be seen above the bungalow as she walked away from the two stars far closer to earth. She pulled out the keys to the Millennium Falcon, the black van that that operated as part office, part getaway vehicle. It used to be their home before they put down stakes in Los Angeles.

Grinning, Red hopped into the driver’s seat, trying on the van, and waited for Vic to get onto the wheelchair lift. She tapped on the steering wheel along with Mr. Blue Sky on the classic rock station. The night was still early, and they had finished the only case on their docket. She had a couple of ideas on how to spend the rest of the night after she ditched her mentor.

Vic asked, suspicion slowing his words, as he strapped his chair into place in the back. “What’s that smirk about? We’re going to have to fill out paperwork.”

She flattened her smile, ducking her head, putting the van into reverse and leaving the celebrity bungalow. She tried to play it cool. “Oh, just happy. Helped a spirit find peace. Met some of those beautiful people everyone keeps talking about.”

“Sure…” Vic snorted, watching her face through the rearview mirror. “Has nothing to do with a certain vampire who probably just woke up and is heading into the office.”

Red turned the van onto the small road toward Mulholland Drive. She was grateful that the twilight hid her twitching grin at the mention of Lucas Crawford. Notorious souled vampire to some, potential boyfriend material to her. She had written in her hunter’s journal that his punk leather coat hid a poet’s heart. That was an entry that she had definitely not shown Vic.

She tried to steer the conversation to less embarrassing waters and brought up their boss, Quinn Byrnes. “Quinn needs to learn to charge rich people more.”

“Good save.” Vic cackled. “But you’re right, Q needs to learn that a sliding scale can go up too. Don’t get me started, but since you mentioned him…” His opinions about how Quinn Investigations ran continued as they drove south through the Hollywood Hills. He might have started out as Quinn’s intern, but after running his own crews, she knew that settling into being an employee rankled him sometimes.

Red didn’t mind his venting. She put on an old Tom Petty playlist and let the road wash over her to marinate in that calm contentment after a job where no one died, and they got their money upfront. It was rare. 

Glittering beside the dark Pacific Ocean, Los Angeles sprawled in the valley below. Tiny headlights of distant cars, clogging the highways and streets, traced out the arteries of the city. Traffic would be a bitch, but she still smiled. She had a home down there. Finally.

The Millennium Falcon trekked down from the hills to a quiet Culver City street. Their creature of the night boss served hot coffee and cold justice for the supernatural-stressed Angeleno in a dingy office strip. Sandwiched between an Indian restaurant and a massage therapist, it didn’t look like much from the outside. More like a place where you could get a payday cash advance.

Red parked in the lot tucked behind the low building. Her smile wilted as she listened to Vic unstrap his wheelchair in the back. The Millennium Falcon used to be filled with bean bags, blankets, and wooden bullets. There were still wooden bullets, but the rest had been put away to make room for her mentor’s electric wheelchair. She still hadn’t gotten used it.

Seeing him in his chair made her wish she could slam a gardening hoe into Michel De Grammont’s head again. The rogue master vampire might have gone to his final death, but she’d give a good chunk of her newfound inheritance to do him in again.

Vic had warned her when she joined him. Life could change in a blink of an eye as a hunter.

Stepping out of the van, Red waited until Vic had rolled his wheelchair off the lift to click the van remote.

Lucas’s motorcycle shined nearby, tempting her eyes away. Red bit her lip to hide her smile.

Vic whizzed ahead through the automatic door and opened the small office at the end of the hall. “Q?” Vic called out before using his nickname for Lucas. “Greg? We forgot to get you an autograph.”

Red checked out her reflection in a glass doorway and wiped off a bit of smudged mascara under her green eyes before letting her red hair down from its ponytail holder. She wished she had something nicer on instead of her usual hunting outfit of black tank top and jeans. Sensible, yes. Glamorous, no.

Despite her new mysterious trust fund handled by Smith and Reaper, the creepiest bank in LA, she still hadn’t gone on a shopping spree. Red rolled her eyes at herself. What was she doing? Lucas had seen her covered in blood, wearing hideous borrowed pink leopard print leggings—the opposite of glamour. He knew what she looked like.

She trotted into Quinn Investigations after Vic.

The long desk in front of the wide windows had a typical pile of invoices and envelopes on it. Rolling cabinets and a couch lined the walls. Everything was in place but the vampires bickering with each other.

Lucas usually slept in, but Quinn kept human hours. Red still hadn’t figured out if Quinn did that for business or it was the crippling guilt from centuries as the patriarch of a family of soulless vampires that even demons feared. A little from column A, column B, she supposed. There was a reason why the original soul-cursing spell had been invented for them.

Lucas might have dressed like a punk with a mouth like one, but he felt the weight of two decades slaughtering the innocent even after living more than a lifetime with a soul. She couldn’t imagine the guilt that Quinn carried from centuries of unrestrained bloodlust.

She stiffened when no one came out of the door to the private office leading to the basement apartment. “They could hear you, right? Do you think Lucas is still sleeping?”

“If he was here, Lucas would already be mooning over you and trying to make with the Sid Vicious charm.” Vic looked at the memo pad by the laptop on the desk. “Looks like Cora Moon has them doing an investigation at a recording studio. Good deed for the neighborhood, or is she getting protection money?”

“Hard to say.” Red shrugged. The Supreme Master Vampire of Los Angeles fed the hungry and homeless in Inglewood, then turned around to torture her own best friend when Delilah had been falsely accused of a coup. Souls were a mixed bag in a demon.

Red furrowed her brow as she realized something. “It takes away the special fun of us seeing celebrities if they did too.”

“Fuck yes, it does.” Vic chuckled.

Red picked up a newspaper from the couch, then set it on the coffee table, betting it was Lucas who’d left it there. Probably to annoy Quinn.  

The entertainment section had fallen onto the floor. Their client, Nevaeh Morgan, smiled in black and white from the pages, under the headline: The Nightmare before A Christmas Carol.

Red cleaned up the newspaper without looking at the gossip article. She’d had front row seats to Nevaeh’s ghostly encounter. She didn’t need to read about it. She bet it was either inspired to generate clicks online or manipulated to uphold the secrecy of the Black Veil. Mage covens, shifter packs, vampire clans, and other supernatural creatures upheld the conspiracy to hoodwink the human public. Shakespeare’s quote about there being more between heaven and earth was a cliché for a reason. After the fallout from the Blood Alliance’s summit, Red figured the vampire authorities were stamping down hard on the media in LA. “You’ll have to tell me if Nevaeh and DJ Shake are more famous than whoever they see.”

“Fingers crossed it’s just a YouTuber.” Vic pushed the rolling desk chair aside and fired up the desktop computer. “At least I can get this report done quick.” He chatted as he typed.

“Yeah, sounds good.” She pulled out her phone and started writing a text message to Lucas.

Finished the job in the Hills. Went fine. Want to come by later?

“Did you hear me?” Vic asked.

Red squinted as she tried to remember what he asked. “Oh, yeah, lo mein sounds good.”

“Does everything sound good?” Vic raised an eyebrow. “I know who you’re thinking of and texting on the clock. I won’t rag on you because you pretty much filled out this form before we left.”

“Standard ghostie. Standard supplies. After the haunted Proctor House, it’s hard to be too impressed by your run-of-the-mill specter.” Red shrugged. It wasn’t that the supernatural didn’t scare her, it was just that life as a hunter had raised her standard for spookiness.

“We had some good times in Oklahoma.” Vic looked up at the ceiling with the dreamy expression of a romantic remembering a Parisian night.

“We both nearly died, and a werewolf exploded all over an ice cream parlor.” Red put a hand on her hip. “I couldn’t have frozen yogurt for weeks.”

“I walked away though.” Vic looked down at the keyboard, wrinkling his nose, then resumed typing furiously.

Red didn’t reply or look away, hoping he would continue and let some of that grief out.

Of course, he didn’t. Not even to Quinn.

Weeks ago, they might have saved Los Angeles, but that didn’t mean they hadn’t taken hits. Red had been claimed by a notorious unsouled vampire, Kristoff Novak. Quinn had been tortured. Then there was Vic…

Vic had been a regular churchgoer with the kind of faith that could power a cross. When he cleansed a ghost from a room, it didn’t linger around to give hugs. Until tonight. It was something she noted but wouldn’t put into any report.

“You’re getting the usual, then?” Red asked instead of her real questions. They were best friends, but hunters weren’t the touchy feely type. She could only keep getting him out of the apartment and out of his own head. Staying in LA had its risks, but at least they had a chance to be a part of something for a while. Connect with friends longer than a dinner while passing through the same place on a bounty. Have the time to put their clothes in drawers. Red needed the stability at least.

Vic raised an eyebrow at her.

Caught in a melancholy stare, she ducked her head and fiddled with her phone. They had ordered enough from Old Shanghai that her food delivery app already had their usual in the cart. She snuck a look at her notifications. No reply from Lucas.

Red knew Vic had gotten territorial about writing the reports, so she went to clean up the mess of envelopes and paper in the inbox on the desk. She separated them into piles behind the computer. The first was bills for Quinn to pay, then invoices that needed to be filed. The last pile were the random letters that the two vampires received from what she presumed were ye olde pen pals.

Red noticed a bill from Vic’s physical therapy and made sure he didn’t see it. He had been told that Cora Moon was paying for it, but Quinn, filled with guilt, had taken over the payments. She shuffled through the next papers, sorting them quickly before she stopped and clutched at the last one. The area for the sender’s address was blank except for a name: Selene. Her lips formed an ‘o’ as that sunk in.

Selene was Lucas’s sire… and ex-girlfriend. And apparently, he was still in contact with the souled vampire seer. That hadn’t come up in any of their long talks.

Red had opened the door to her life to Lucas, confessing to the monsters she had killed and the amnesia she still couldn’t explain. She tried to rationalize it. She had only fifteen months she could remember. He had over a hundred and sixty years of stories behind him. That took time. Red set down the unopened letter.

“Don’t worry about that crazy desert hermit. She probably just drew a picture of a cat with a man’s face. I would guess in a creepy woodcut style.” Vic rolled away from the computer. “She’s not just a nut, she’s the whole peanut farm.”

Red’s laugh sounded dry and short to her own ears. She had read about Lucas’s sire. Before she died Selene had been a Hero, one of the special champions trained by bards to shield humanity from darkness. Heroes one hell of a step up from hunters. A portrait of a black-haired woman with far-seeing eyes came to mind. Beautiful even in the low-res photo on the Brotherhood’s ancient web database of notorious vampires. “Heh, yeah.”

“Let’s hit the road.” Vic passed her in his chair. “Those losers won’t be back until late.”

“Sure, the takeout should come soon anyway.”

“Another re-watch of The Office?” Vic held the door to the hallway open before locking it behind her.

Red agreed to the TV show choice even as she looked over her shoulder. She tried to ignore her disappointment. Usually, she was happy when a vampire didn’t show up. What a difference a few weeks could make.

At their apartment, the Netflix marathon lasted longer than the Chinese takeout. Red dozed off. Hearing Vic’s electric wheelchair whirl behind the couch, she turned over on the cushions.

The dream crept up on her like a shadow in the darkness.

Red sat up on the couch. The darkened living room had that surreal touch of sparkling twilight. Moonlight and the glow of the TV’s screensaver bathed the furniture. She stretched, wondering if she had gotten the moon phase wrong. She could have sworn it was a new moon tonight. Scratching her side, her idle thoughts turned to wishing there were more tasty noodles left in her bowl. She blinked, finally realizing she wasn’t alone.

The woman sitting on the end of the couch was a stranger in a homemade dress that could have been a museum piece, its pattern faded from a lifetime of laboring in fields. Graying hair pulled up in a tight bun, the woman had a thin, plain face that Charles Dickens would have called sensible. Dour, long wrinkles lined her worried mouth, but her smile warmed it up.

Red wasn’t alarmed to wake up next to a colonial sharecropper. It was a dream after all. Benjamin Franklin might just ride up on a centaur next telling her that hunger was the best pickle. She smiled at the bizarre offering from her sleeping subconscious. “Hello, have we met before?”

“We haven’t yet been introduced, ma’am.” The woman spoke with a lilting accent that made Red think of rolling green hills in Appalachia mixed with the flavors of England.

Red tried but she couldn’t place the accent. “What’s your name?”

“Kate Batts, they call me, and they call you Red.” Kate clasped her hands in her lap. The moonlight reflected off shiny burn marks on her arms. Healed in death, the raised skin, like a topographical map, hinted at a dark tale. Had she died at the stake? “You are a mage- a witch.”

“I’m barely a witch.” Waving her hand in dismissal, Red shook her head. She could do things like blessings and spirit cleansings, but she barely added more punch to the mix than a muggle like Vic. The good stuff only really popped out when she was facing certain death.

“I was once like you.” Kate sighed, the sound rattling in her thin chest. Even in a dream, the other woman looked so real.

Red guessed. “A witch?”

“Full of fear.” Kate put her hand over her own heart. “You have the blood of cunning folk in you, old mages and wise witches, yet you resist it something fierce.”

“I don’t have anyone to learn from.” Red looked away, pulling her legs up and wrapping her arms around them. When was the dream centaur coming? She didn’t need a random figment of her subconscious criticizing her. “It’s also kind of a sensitive subject.”

Red wanted to master her magic but learning about Juniper St. James had dimmed the fire under her butt. Living with the idea of being a doppelgänger of a long-dead courtesan was bad enough. Then finding out that Juniper had been a dark witch who had cut through London on a revenge trip… That was enough to put any witch off her craft.

“You want answers.” Kate gestured to the tidy living room filled with pre-owned IKEA furniture lit by unnatural moonlight. “You beckoned me to your home, young witch.”

“Beckoned?” Red squinted. Her stomach sank. Was this one of those supernatural dreams that she would have to tell Vic about? Or had her brain found a new wacky trick to make her anxious? Had it been too long since her last panic attack for her subconscious? There were a lot of ways to beckon spirits, and she hadn’t done any of them. She tried to remember if she’d accidentally mispronounced some Latin recently.

“Control over your destiny, that is what you seek. Resisting your power won’t bring you that control.” Kate rubbed the burns on her arms. “Not until you understand how to use it.”

“I don’t want what could come with it.” Red looked down, surprised at the truth coming out. Maybe it was the feeling of being in a dream that made her confess something she would never dare in the light of day. Or maybe it was just the feeling that Kate might understand. Red had met more hunters than witches on the road. “Were you the spirit that I saw in Nevaeh’s house?”

“T’was only my shadow. Your spirit gaze is too weak to see for good and true.” Kate tapped the space between her own eyebrows, smiling gently. “This is the eye you should use.”

The third eye? Hers might as well have been blind. Red only saw nearly transparent blotches of auras, sigils, and other magical residues when she really focused. “How?”

“Like a hound with a raccoon, you sink your teeth into this physical realm. The textures, the colors, the passage of time—they blind you, young’un. Your spirit gaze can’t cut through the mundane to the mystical.” Kate leaned in, the flicks of green in her brown gaze becoming clearer. “Visualize that eye in your brow. Imagine it fluttering open. Close them physical ones if you need to.”

“I’ve tried this before.” Red obeyed even as she groused. She could see vague mists and shadows through her third eye sometimes, but nothing like that kaleidoscope vision of spirits and sigils some mages claimed.

“When you are awake and resisting the call, I reckon. You are on the border to the Dreamland. Your barriers are down. Stubborn like a mule, you cling to the truths you see, not the ones you feel. Loosen the expectation of what is, and allow yourself to see what could be.” Kate’s instructions sounded like they were given with a smile, as if she had taught many a novice before.

Red breathed deep and tried to relax. Mage craft started and ended with concentration in order to manipulation the esoteric energy. Your intentions had to be clear. No wonder that her magic only obeyed sporadically like a willful teenager. Life dodging demons and collecting supernatural bounties made it hard to carve out the time to meditate and hone her focus. Oddly, her magic felt so much closer to the surface in the dream. Eyes still closed, she let her spirit gaze open.

The shadows deepened as spectral mists in the living room grew brighter. The mists grew more defined, blazing like neon signs hanging on the walls. Sigils. These were symbols of power and intent etched into the ether.

Red opened her real eyes. The sigils remained as if her third eye had snapped onto her vision like a photography filter. The apartment, rented through a Smith and Reaper service for supernaturals, had been charmed to resist fire, burglary, and other threats. She hadn’t seen them burn so brightly before. Red turned to Kate to see how the other woman looked in the spirit gaze.

“You’re curious about my true form.” The transformation was swift. Radiance shined through Kate’s face, softening the toil lining her features. The rainbow flames swirling at her seven chakras outshone the sigils on the walls. Her green heart chakra pulsed brighter than the others. In the spirit gaze, her burn scars shined like silvery armor. Kate smiled. The brilliant display disappeared as if she had flipped a switch to leave only the façade of a colonial farm worker behind. “It’s a wee bit distracting. Look to yourself.”

“Oh, whoa!” Red glanced down at her own body. She could see her own chakras. Her blue throat chakra looked like it needed dusting. The orange sacral chakra glimmered vividly at her navel. Smudges hung over the rest. Chagrined, Red covered her dingy solar plexus chakra with her palm. “Looks like I need to sage myself. Maybe take these out for dry cleaning.”

Kate chuckled. “Concentrate on hiding them. You can if you will it so.”

Focusing on pulling a mental curtain over her telltale chakras, Red closed her eyes. Excitement bubbled up. She hadn’t really practiced her magic with anyone else. It was more fun than trying to decipher flowery grimoires. Reopening her eyes, she looked down and frowned. A faint glow still radiated from her torso. She poked her stomach. “It’s peeking out.”

Kate shook her head, eyebrows arched in amusement. “No, that is your magic, sister witch.”

“So that’s where it’s been hiding, next to my spleen.” Red squinted at her belly. She concentrated on camouflaging her power, visualizing a curtain closing. It worked! This was so cool.

“You can see and be unseen. This is my gift to ye for freeing Dean.” Kate smiled and gestured around the room. “The knowledge is locked inside of you. I sense a library’s worth. That binding on you is suppressing it, but it’s still there.”

“How do you know this about me?” Red asked, leaning toward Kate and taking her hands. She’d had another ghost tell her once that she had come from a long line of witches. The old pilgrim, John Proctor, hadn’t told her more than her mother had run away from her own magical talents. The questions had haunted Red worse than he had. “Can you see more? What about my family?”

Red sat straight up when she woke from the dream that no longer felt like a dream. Had the woman really visited her? Was it her imagination or an omen? She looked around, expecting to see the woman still sitting on the couch. “Kate?”

Red knew that she should have been creeped out. She’d had a conversation with a ghost that followed her home. Instead, she was just curious. Looking around the living room, she closed her eyes and saw the protection sigils as clearly as the TV screen. She shifted off her spirit gaze. “Wow. Some gift.”

The blinking notification on her phone distracted her. She picked it up from the coffee table, squinting as the artificial light blinded her. It was 5 a.m. She looked at the text message that had come in. It was from Kristoff Novak. Her cheeks warmed. “Oh…”

Kristoff was a wildcard. The undead entrepreneur had bitten and claimed her on the dance floor of his nightclub. Being claimed had the positive effect of keeping other vampires from attacking you, the negatives were that by vampire law, Kristoff owned her. He hadn’t acted like it. He had saved her life even when she was investigating him for the murder of a Bard’s daughter. After it all, he simply went back to Portland. Most unsouled vampires would have dragged her back to their lair by now.

Kristoff said he wasn’t like other vampires.

He had also been another man that her doppelgänger had twisted around her finger back in the Victorian Age. It was complicated.

Red knew she should ignore him. She opened it anyway.

How are you? I am in my cabin in on Mount Hood and we had a snowfall tonight. It made me think of you in sunny LA. If you yearn for a white Christmas, you’re always welcome in Oregon.

She frowned. The text message looked so normal. If a stranger had read it, they wouldn’t have guessed it came from a master vampire who had killed rogue demons to defend her. The text message didn’t unsettle her. Much like the dream, maybe it should have.

It only made her wistful. She checked her other messages. Still no reply from Lucas. It felt weird to answer a message from Kristoff, and not just because he didn’t have a soul. Lucas was his sire, and there was little love between them. The specter of Juniper St. James hung heaver over her than even the ghosts she had cleansed earlier.

She shot off a quick message. I’m fine. Thanks for the offer, but I am happy spending Christmas on the beach. I have enough ghosts here in LA without going back to Oregon. The second she sent it, she sighed at herself. That was stupid.

The reply came back vampire fast. What’s wrong? Did someone upset you?

It was uncanny how he seemed to know her… doppelgänger shenanigans aside. By someone, he meant Lucas. He had told her not to trust his sire. He should have told her to not develop a crush on Lucas.

Then again, Vic had, and look how much she’d listened.

Red typed, Nothing is wrong, then deleted it. She paused, then typed, Enjoy sunrise. Thanks for the concern. She scowled and deleted it, then settled on: Try not to eat anyone. Goodnight.

Red turned off her phone and tossed it on the other side of the couch. Putting her hand on her forehead, she fell back on the couch with a huff. She didn’t need to think about how easy it was to talk to Kristoff. Or how much she wanted to talk to Lucas.

Life was simpler before Los Angeles.