In Carson City, Nevada a tragic car accident has claimed the lives of Nexi Jones’ adoptive parents. Now, without them, her reason to live has vanished and she is determined to end her pain.
The problem with that, it’s not heaven she wakes up to, it’s the Otherworld. Nexi must reconcile the truth about her past, and her heritage as part guardian/part witch, while she begins to train to join the Council’s guard. But it’s not the combat training that has her worried, its attempting to keep her cool around the luscious guardian, Kyden that’s her biggest concern.
Before long, Nexi’s skills are put to the test as she begins to fight against the supernatural who have taken a human life. But nothing can prepare her for the journey ahead. Soon, she will find herself lost in a mystery and fighting to keep all she’s gained, as Lazarus, a vampire, threatens to take it all away.
A bird singing in the distance stirred me from my sleep. My eyes fluttered open to a perfect warm summer evening in Carson City, Nevada. The night was so clear, every star in the dark sky was visible. There was forest laid out around me with plush grass resting below. A light breeze wrapped around my body and goose bumps rose across my skin, but suddenly, that peace was interrupted by gripping pain.
Where am I?
When I glanced toward the source of the pain, confusion swept through me—my wrists were slit and bleeding out tremendously. My vision blurred, but I blinked hard, forcing it to remain when, a tickle came from overhead. My gaze slowly glanced up toward it and the moment the weeping willow came into focus, my memory came with it.
Yes, I was badly hurt, but this, I had done to myself. And why that was is really quite simple—I’ve always been a little different. An outsider, never quite fit in anywhere, never felt right in my own skin. But having my adoptive parents Gloria and Frank Jones kept me strong enough to deal with it—strong enough to fight against the sense of alienation. Plus, I’d become an expert at hiding this little secret and blatantly ignoring it. My life had been full of happiness for twenty-four years.
But all of that joy was ripped away by the Carson City Sheriff’s Department. At first, all I heard was, “accident on Interstate 50”. It took another half an hour to come to terms with the rest, “your parents have been killed”.
With those few simple words, my hopes and dreams were shattered. The only two people in the world I loved left me. Deserted me in a place I didn’t belong. Now, there was nothing here for me anymore. No reason to stay. Which is why I was here resting beneath my willow, bleeding out.
The leaves dangled down again, trailed along my body almost in a way to comfort me. Located deep in the Carson City wilderness area, this tree is my home away from home—my own little piece of paradise.
Truthfully, I came here hoping it would save me from my own thoughts. But the moment I arrived, it only seemed to reassure me that the choice I was making was the only one. The life I had now was no life at all.
As a tear fell down my cheek, the pain consuming me began to withdraw and a chill set deep into my bones. My eyes began to droop, and my limbs were numb and heavy.
Someone once told me, when you die you see your entire life flash before your eyes, containing all of your happiest moments. Apparently, they lied. Nothing but ice ran through my blood equaled by the sense of being dreadfully alone.
Just as the pain threatened to raise a scream from my throat, a twig cracked beside me. Startled, I glanced toward it, a man stood, watching intently. Annoyance immediately filled me. A savior is not what I wanted, but when my mouth parted, nothing came out. Dammit!
He started toward me, his walk smooth, but strong. Was I dead? Was this my guardian angel? He looked the part well enough. Heaven isn’t called Heaven for nothing, especially if it’s filled with men like this. He was handsome enough to put George Clooney to shame. Looked a lot like him too—same soft eyes, dark hair, even his shape—strong without being overwhelming. The best part was his clothing, or lack thereof, which only consisted of a sword strapped to his back and a kilt made of armor.
Unexpectedly, a rush of the ickies sneaked up. Apparently, it was wrong that I was ogling him. Guess God had a sense of humor, fill Heaven with gorgeous men, but strictly enforce a hands-off rule. Just my luck!
When he reached me, he leaned down, and put his hand on the top of my head. There was something to his touch—something so familiar. “I have found you, my darling, Nexi,” he said. “Sleep now. You are safe and it’s time for you to come home.”
A wave of peace washed over me and the last thing I saw before the world faded away to darkness was my willow swaying in the wind.
When I awoke next, nothing made sense. A Cathedral or something like it was surrounding me. From wall to wall, it was an endless display of Gothic architecture. Pointed arches, large rose stain-glassed windows, heavily detailed pillars, immaculate stone sculptures, and even a hammer-beam roof to boot.
The hard floor was doing nasty things to my back. Pushing against it, I sat up and came face-to-face with a wolf. “Whoa, weird dream.” I drew in a deep breath, and gave my eyes a hard rub. Then, I lowered my hands.
One second passed, then another, and another.
Then, my brain caught up with me. I wasn’t a dreaming. “What the…” I screamed, scrambling back.
Confusion hit hard.
The wolf wasn’t alone—there were four other people here too. One, in fact, was the man from the woods. “Do you know who I am?” he asked, softly.
This couldn’t be? Did it work? Am I dead?
But wait, I didn’t feel dead. “Where am I?” My stomach tightened as I prepared for the blow. My views always leaned toward the theory when you die, your dead—plain and simple. None of this afterlife nonsense, but now, I began to doubt that theory. And past sins began to swarm my mind, equaled by questions. Does honor the mother and father mean listen to them always? And really, how bad is it if you use the Lord’s name in vain? Oh, Jesus fucking Christ, I’m going straight to hell.
Interrupting my thoughts, the only woman in the room said, “I am Zia, Master of Witches.”
“Master of the who, what?” I stumbled, mainly in shock, but also because this strawberry blonde, blue eyed, bombshell shouldn’t belong in Heaven—no angel should look this sexy.
Instead of answering, she took my hand in hers and grasped it firmly. Seconds later, a bright flash of light forced my eyes closed and when they opened, a room sat before me, but not the room I was just in, a different one. And that wasn’t the shocking part, it was the people in front of me that had me stunned silly.
“Hello,” I called out, but no one responded. “Can you hear me?” But again, I was completely ignored.
Apparently, this was a vision I could see but not interact with. Resigned, I kept quiet and just watched.
“Drake, have you ever seen anything so beautiful?” A woman sat on a wooden bed, cradling a baby in her arms. Her long dirty blonde hair reached the middle of her back, her face made up of strong lines, and her eyes, a soft blue that shined with utter joy.
“Yes, Tyrianna,” Drake answered, joining her on the bed. “She is stunning. A true treasure.”
“She is special.”
“A little Guardian, a little witch—a perfect beauty.”
Releasing a deep breath, I stared in total disbelief. It was undeniable, she’s my birth mother. The resemblance was uncanny. Our athletic features, high cheekbones, plump lips, even our dirty blonde hair matched right down to the length. And yes, that baby was me. My freckle sat directly under the corner of my left eye like it always had.
That wasn’t the only kicker, the man from the woods wasn’t just any man, he was my father. They’re my birth parents, and the implication of what I was being shown here was insanity at its best.
Without a chance to fully process, another bright flash blasted me into the next vision.
“By the Gods, I will gut Lazarus for this,” Drake roared, holding Tryianna in his arms.
“Drake,” Zia whispered. “Nexi needs you.”
He lowered Tryianna’s empty body, stood, and took the baby from her arms. “I promise you, Nexi, you will not suffer the fate that has been brought upon your mother.”
“What is it you wish me to do, Drake?” Zia asked.
“Call a meeting with the Council. We cannot delay. It is of grave importance.”
Another bright flash snapped me out of this vision and into the next. The cathedral I’d awoke to was now laid before me, surrounded by all the same people.
“We must send her away,” Drake said. “As much as I hate to lose her, it is the only way.”
“Are you sure this is what you want?” a man wearing the same kilt and sword get up asked. “If Nexi leaves the Otherworld you will never see her again.”
Drake nodded firmly. “She must be kept safe, Talon. Tryianna would ask this much of me. The Otherworld is not safe anymore.”
“We have all felt the potential within this youngling,” a strikingly tall handsome man said. “It would be a waste to send her away. She can only strengthen our home.”
“If she stays here she could die,” Drake deplored.
The room fell silent for a few moments, then Talon finally said, “If this is what you wish, we will not refuse you. I can only hope that you have made the right decision.”
“It may not be the right decision, but it is the only one,” Drake responded then he glanced to Zia. “I would ask that you provide her with protection? If this danger follows her, I need to be able to act if she is threatened.”
“What you ask of me, Drake, is a small task.” A tear fell down her rosy cheek. “I will do whatever I can to help you and Nexi.”
Another flash brought me back to the present, glancing into the face of the man I thought I’d never meet. Now faced with it, I could see the resemblance. We had the same eyes, not only in the almond shape, but in the color too. The same deep green with brown flecks surrounding the iris.
Closing my eyes tight, I gave my arm a pinch. I’m dreaming. This isn’t real. Daringly, I opened them again, but I was still here. Shit!
“You are not dreaming, Nexi.” Drake chuckled, as did the others.
My lips parted, but only air escaped. Closing it again, a second passed before for reality set in. My chin tingled then I busted into tears.
Drake lunged forward, snapping me up into his arms. “Hush now, I have you.”
Surprisingly, nothing about this was awkward. And it felt good—right. After longing for a familiar touch, this was soothing. He was family. I’m not alone.
Disputing any of this was impossible. Those visions showed me the truth of my past and the relief of knowing who and what I was overwhelmed me. To finally have a reason for it all came with such emotion, I could barely breathe.
Nevertheless, just because that part had been explained, didn’t mean the loss of Gloria and Frank was any less painful. Reconciling all this was hard. The pain was so intense before, intense enough that I couldn’t fight against it. I was expecting to be dead, not having to face it head on, plus deal with a whole slew of other craziness.
Drake’s voice broke through my moment of hysteria, “I have longed to hold you like this.”
Backing away from his chest, I met his gaze and said, “I wish I could say the same.” When his expression filled with confusion, I continued, “Growing up—I never once thought of whom my birth parents were and why they had given me up.”
“It should sadden me to hear that, but I am relieved you were treated you so well you did not need to think of such things.”
“Gone?” he repeated.
“They were killed a week ago in a car accident.”
“Ah, I see.” He brushed his hand across my cheek wiping away a tear. “That is why you were in the forest then?”
I nodded, gulping deeply. “I…I.” Great, now I was going to have to explain myself. Just what I wanted to do—explain why I was so pathetic I needed to off myself.
“You do not need to explain yourself,” he interjected. “When I placed you in the Earthworld, I hoped you would be able to adjust, that you would not know any different if the truth was kept from you.” He sighed deeply. “Quite a shame to hear the Jones’ have passed.”
Huh? “You knew them?”
“When Tryianna was killed and the decision was made for you to stay in the Earthworld. I searched out families looking to adopt. We needed to find a family who was small—one with little ties, so you would not be greatly exposed.”
He wasn’t wrong here. Gloria and Frank had no siblings, and their parents had passed when they were in the forties. Any other family was over in England, and they were distant. We never talked to or about them—ever. Our family consisted of just the three of us.
“It kept you hidden well,” he continued. “When we discovered the Jones’, Zia and I both agreed they were the perfect choice. Were we right?”
“Yes, they were so wonderful to me.” They’d been perfect in every way. The word adopted just held no meaning in our home. Gloria said God sent them an angel, but I never saw it that way, I was the lucky one.
They’d never once complained that I didn’t move out. Lame right—a twenty-four year old woman still living with her parents? But without them I couldn’t have survived. They fueled the empty vessel that was my body and kept me whole.
Now, looking back, maybe they knew how much I needed them. Maybe they knew if I left I would’ve fallen apart. Maybe they knew what took place beneath my willow was inevitable.
“I came to you once,” Drake said, brushing the hair away from my face.
“When the threat of danger in the Otherworld was gone, I came to get you and bring you home.” He smiled softly. “You were so young then, only around ten, and I saw you planting flowers with Gloria in the back garden. I stayed that day for hours and watched you.”
“But you never came up to the house?”
“No, you are right, I didn’t.”
“You looked so happy. The smile I saw on your face that day showed me that I made the right decision for you. You were safe, in a world without danger, and loved deeply.” He cupped my cheek and I leaned against it. “I could not separate you from her. No matter how much I wanted you to myself.”
Christ, he looked tormented. And the sight of it unsettled me. I held no anger toward him. How could I? The visions made it clear enough—he only wanted to keep me safe. Besides, I wouldn’t have changed a moment of my life spent with Gloria and Frank. And in order for me to move past all this, he couldn’t continue to carry that guilt and sadness in his eyes. It would be a constant reminder. “You know one thing about Gloria,” I sniffed loudly, collecting myself. “One thing she would be saying to us right now.”
”What would she say?” Drake asked, curiously.
“She’d say what the hell are you two doing here when you have a life to live? She’d be right ripping mad that we were mulling over things we couldn’t change, and that the only one worrying about the past is us. She lived a life filled with great memories, that time means nothing, and she had everything she ever wanted. She’d say that if we didn’t shape up and pull ourselves together, she’d pull out the wooden spoon.”
Now, it seemed comical. Why had I been so afraid of that damn spoon? She never laid a hand on me, but just the sound of the drawer opening had me shaking in my boots and apologizing quickly.
“Wise woman.” He laughed. “Best we listen to her then.”
Rubbing my hands along my face, I sent the rest of the sadness away to store in that part of myself that I’d never go back to. A place I knew all too well. One thing Gloria taught me was to take life as it came. Could I change this situation, no. So, why mull over it. Better just step up and find out what I landed myself into. “So, what happened to my mother exactly?”
“Tryianna was a powerful witch, and because of that, she was killed by a vampire, Lazarus who was raging war against the Otherworld.”
“And you sent me away because of that?”
He nodded. “It was safer for you not to be here, and not discover your powers. Tryianna would have wanted you to be safe.”
This came with a whole mess of emotions. I was glad for the time spent with Gloria and Frank, but to know my birth mother, a little longing did filter through. I stuffed it away. “So, he’s been caught, right?”
“No,” he responded through gritted teeth. “He has long been in hiding. As I told you earlier, the threat from him has been gone for many years, and we haven’t heard or seen him since that night.”
The pain running across his face was heartbreaking. More than just an ache over her death, it was not having a resolution for it all—a means to end his pain. Undeniably, the wound was still very raw. So, I said the only thing that came to mind, “I am sorry you lost her.”
“My darling,” his voice was soft and full of despair, “I am sorrier that you will not have the chance to know her.”
Questions about my mother swirled in my mind. How did they meet? What was she like? But seeing the utter torment running through him at the mention her, as if I’d ask more. So, a change in conversation was in order. “Let me get this straight, I’m a...” I couldn’t even think the words let alone say it.
“Witch and Guardian,” he said concisely.
“And you’re telling me I’m going to have magical abilities?” This was just all types of ridiculous.
“Indeed you will. We will not know the level of witch magic you hold until it comes in, and I am afraid I cannot tell you when that will be. However, your Guardian powers are not so difficult to discover.”
Before I could ask what the hell any of that meant, Zia said, “The Council welcomes you to the Otherworld, Nexi.”
Startled, I chuckled at the absurdity that I had totally forgotten we weren’t alone. Then, I repeated. “The Council?”
She nodded toward the others. “We are the governing body of the Otherworld.”
As if to prove that thought, the wolf began to vibrate. Then, he wasn’t a wolf anymore. He was a man.
My hand flew to my mouth. “Holy shit!” I said beneath it.
Zia adamantly ignored my shock and continued, “Brax, Master of Weres.”
I’d consider him a softy with his sweet soft features and long dark hair. That is, if the two hundred and fifty pounds of muscle on his body didn’t put him into the category of scary as hell.
“Talon, Master of Guardians,” she said next.
He stepped forward and bowed his head. When his gaze rose to mine, it’s a surprise I wasn’t blushing. His short brown hair, bright green eyes, and hard jaw only added to the rest of his handsome features. He wore gear similar to Drake’s—just a little more extravagant, which sat deliciously against one rock hard bod. Pretty obvious, Guardians were warriors of some sort, but warriors against what was the question?
“Zade, Master of Vampires,” she finished.
He was the tall guy from the vision, and he indeed towered over me, but that was the least of my concerns. His black sinful eyes couldn’t pull a fast one on me. He was a vampire.
I began to tremble. My breath coming out in short gasps as fear instantly consumed me.
“You have nothing to fear from me, child,” Zade said, reassuringly.
Yeah right, trust a vampire—sounds like a brilliant idea. One had killed my mother, for flippin’ sakes.
“Not to worry, Sweetie.” Zia interjected as she took my hand. “Here this will help.”
The moment her hand closed around mine, a surge similar to an electric current tore through me. “Bah,” I gasped, snapping my hand away. “What the hell was that?”
“I used my magic to release the block I had put on you to hide your Guardian power. You will feel more settled now.”
“Right, used your magic.” I rolled my eyes. “What is the Leaky Cauldron around here somewhere?” When scared shitless make jokes—Frank’s number one rule.
“Wish it was.” Zia laughed. “Those Harry Potter movies are fabulous.”
But as my mind cleared of thought, it was apparent that something had changed within me. I took a few deeps breaths trying to understand it. Then, the realization hit. My reason for living, my purpose had suddenly been answered. For the first time in my life, I felt at home.
And that wasn’t all it fixed. Zade wasn’t so scary. In fact, why had he been so scary? After a moment of contemplation, I came up blank. “This is…wow…I.” Yup, that was me stumbling all over the place.
“This has been a long day for you,” Zia said. “I think it’s best for you to get some rest. Everything will be easier to process after that.”
“Zia is right, come Nexi,” Drake said, raising his hand toward the door.
The moment we exited, I gasped a deep surprised breath at the room before me. Essentially a long rectangular room made up of pure white stone walls that seeped into a ribbed vault. On the left sat a large wooden door with wrought iron handles. To the right were four tremendously large windows with intricate stone carvings decorating the sides.
“This is the Council’s Foyer,” Zia said. “Quite remarkable isn’t it?”
“Very.” Hand me a goblet of ale, call me wench, and I’d fit right in. “What’s that room called?” I asked, nodding behind me.
“The Council’s Hall.”
“Wow.” I laughed. “Someone busted a vein coming up with those names.”
She grinned. “It is what it is.”
We passed through an arched doorway and the word Guardian was etched into the stone wall. Before I could voice my question, Zia said, “The Otherworld is home to many of us. We each have a part of the castle that is ours. This is the Guardian’s House. Since you will be training among the Guardians, it is only right for you to stay with them.”
“Training to do what?”
“Baby steps.” She smiled softly, patting my shoulder. “Let’s get you settled first.”
As we went through another doorway, a giggle escaped me. What was this a medieval hotel? The hall was lined with thick wooden doors on the left and pointed arched windows on the right. Each door we passed had a name written in pretty gold calligraphy on it. Keir, Drake, Nexi.
I skidded to a halt. “Why is my name on this door?”
“Because this is now your home.” Zia answered, opening the door.
Don’t know what I expected, but it definitely wasn’t this. Matching beige sofas were huddled around a stone fireplace that reached from the top of the ceiling to the bottom of the floor and in between them was a thick dark oak table with a vase full of yellow tulips on top.
The kitchen was just off to the side—a rustic oak island matched the large cabinets with brass decorative handles, and a thick pine country table rested in the corner.
On the other side of the living room sat the bedroom, which fit the country charm perfectly. Centered against the back wall was a huge white iron king size bed with a frilly white duvet on top. Two aged wooden tables sat on either side of the bed, which held pretty, decorative lamps, and to the left was a walk in closet that happened to be stocked full of clothes. Beside it, was the bathroom.
“Is this to your taste?” Drake asked. “Your mother liked this look. I thought...”
“It’s perfect.” And it was—the country motif was just my thing.
His body softened from the tense one it had been in and a grin rose to his face. “I’m sure you need a moment. Join us when you are ready.”
After they left, I made my way to the bathroom. When I entered, I grinned myself. A huge—perfect for two bodies huge—claw foot bathtub sat against the wall with a toilet and pedestal sink off to the side. An antique bookcase rested beneath an oval mirror, filled with washcloths, thick white towels, and bath products.
This room, I was sure to enjoy. Baths and me got along real well.
Meeting the sink, a complete and total meltdown threatened to rise. I was sure as shit entitled as far as I was concerned. The question weighed heavily for a moment, but I eventually gave up. It wouldn’t get me anywhere. I’d still be here and have to deal with this. So, I quickly washed up and went back out to join them.
As I drew closer, Zia was preparing some toasted sandwiches with a spinach salad. I was beyond delighted. Who knew what they ate here? Very relieved, it wasn’t something with a heartbeat.
“I hope you are hungry,” Zia asked as I sat.
“Starving,” I responded, grabbing the sandwich and took a bite. After I swallowed I asked, “Out of curiosity, what happened after I disappeared from Carson City? I mean, did anyone notice?”
“The police were contacted by a neighbor who hadn’t seen you in awhile,” Drake responded.
Probably Mrs. Taylor, the wife of my former employer, Dr. Taylor. Days answering phones and filing documents was a cushy job. I could never complain. And the Taylors’ are wonderful souls. At the funeral, they told me to take off as much time as I needed, and my job would be waiting for me when I was ready to return. But they also fed me and let me shower at their house. Going back to the home I shared with Gloria and Frank wasn’t an option, and it was a need they understood. Completely kind and sweet people they are, and nothing felt good about having them worried sick right now.
“The search for you continues,” Drake continued. “But it will likely end soon, and they will declare you a missing person.”
After trying to imagine my face on the back of a milk carton, awkwardness began to sink in as silence filled the air. I hadn’t expected to meet my birth father, and wasn’t prepared for it. I had no idea what to say.
Bless Zia for stepping in. "Tell us a little about yourself, Nexi.
And that was the beginning of an hour conversation as we learned every little detail of each other's lives. Amazing to see how much I was like him—his voice, gestures, even in his smile.
When the conversation had run its course, Drake stood. “It is time for us to be off, you need your rest.”
I held back a laugh. As if that was going to happen—sleep was pretty much written off until I got a better grasp of this insane situation. Of course, as I followed them to the door, I didn’t voice the thought.
Just as Zia stepped out, she took my hand and smiled. “Sleep well.”
Suddenly, a wave of relaxation washed over me, my eyes drooped heavy with sleep, my body felt a thousand pounds and as the door closed, Zia’s laugh came loud.
Quickly, I made my way to the bedroom, threw on pajamas and climbed into bed. I was dead to the world before I even hit the pillow.