New York is my prison.
Once a sought-after assassin, a single error in judgment landed me in servitude to House August, the most powerful vampire family in North America. Now I use my special brand of magic as a member of their security team, fighting monsters in the city and keeping the royal family’s many enemies at bay.
When the queen summons me for an assignment and offers my freedom in return, I want to jump at the chance—until she tells me what the assignment is.
Like a valiant knight, I am to escort her son from the family’s stronghold in Florida back to New York, which would be difficult enough without my messy romantic history with the rogue prince.
I accept the job because my freedom means more than my wounded pride.
Darkness and monsters stand between us and our destination. Thankfully I’ve never been afraid of either one.
I soon discover there’s more at stake than the return of the prodigal son. Even if we survive our enemies, I’m not sure I’ll survive the journey with the vampire who broke my heart.
Endless Knight, Midnight Empire: The Restoration, is the first book in a new urban fantasy trilogy set in the same world as Wild Knight, Midnight Empire: The Tower.
Release date: March 22, 2022
Publisher: Red Palm Press LLC
Print pages: 226
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I sat on a ledge with my legs dangling over the side of a red brick building. If I didn’t have a job to do, I’d take time to enjoy the quiet of the neighborhood. Hudson Square was one of the least populated areas in the city, which meant fewer lights and less foot traffic. It wasn’t always like this. According to royal records, it was once a hub for large media companies. The blocks heaved with luxury high-rise buildings and glass monuments to technology. When the neighborhood’s fortunes rose, it became a sought-after location close to the Hudson River.
When the neighborhood’s fortunes fell, they fell hard.
The simultaneous eruption of ten of the world’s supervolcanoes resulted in enough ash in the atmosphere to block the sun. The Eternal Night wasn’t the only outcome.
When darkness fell, the monsters came.
Deep in the earth’s core, they bided their time until ten doors opened and allowed them entry. By land, sea, and air they attacked and invaded. Active calderas in the Americas and Australasia meant those areas suffered more than other continents. The entire continent of South America succumbed to the magma and monsters. Here in Hudson Square, they managed to wipe out most of the skyscrapers and destroy half the neighborhood before the vampires were able to secure it. Its proximity to the Hudson River became a negative feature. The damage was psychological as well as physical. Residents circumvented this neighborhood even after all these years, which was the reason House August refused to invest in its restoration. A shame, really. The place had potential.
I leaned over the ledge. There were five stories between my feet and the pavement. Thankfully I didn’t mind heights. Sometimes I fantasized that a mighty dragon would breach the city wards and whisk me away. When I was feeling particularly lonely, the dragon would turn out to be a hot dragon shifter who fell madly in love with me. Too bad dragon shifters didn’t exist.
I kept my eye on the defunct Big Apple tour bus parked on the street below. My boss hated when anybody referred to the city as ‘the Big Apple,’ which only encouraged me to do it as frequently as possible. As the Director of Security for House August, Olis had a lot of responsibility and the wizard didn’t suffer fools gladly.
In other words, he was a joy to torment.
Bored, I scraped the dirty heels of my boots against the brick. I would’ve preferred to drop down and confront the occupants of the bus right now. Get the confrontation over with. I knew I couldn’t do that, though. My recklessness was the reason I was here in the first place, working for House August as an indentured servant in their security division. Thanks to my actions, I’d been given a choice—a public beheading in Times Square or servitude. I chose the latter. I wasn’t big on spectacles unless I was the one in charge of it. Now the royal vampires owned me. I was their tool. Arguably a tool was better than a weapon, which had been my life before this one. ‘Death Bringer’ they called me, among other things. The moniker was a little on the nose for my taste, but it conveyed the right message. I was both feared and revered by vampires because of my rare type of magic.
I rubbed an apple on my chest and bit into it. One of the perks of my position was decent food. No need to scavenge or starve. House August owned magical orchards and vineyards on Long Island. Unlike me, those witches and wizards were compensated for their work. If I’d been a regular witch, maybe they would’ve offered me a cushy job like that—help them grow their blueberries and blackberries or tend to the grapes that made the wine.
Sadly I wasn’t that kind of witch. My magic had limited uses, most of which involved death.
I watched with interest as a rat emerged from a nearby dumpster and scrambled toward the bus. Rats had been a real problem in the city in the early years of the Eternal Night. They’d once been as small as cats, but the changing environment created fertile ground for their evolution. When House August seized control of the city, one of their first acts was to deal with the growing rat population. It wasn’t as altruistic as it sounded. The rats were spreading disease among the human population and the vampires needed human blood to survive, which made rats Public Enemy Number One.
The rat headed straight for the bus and I suspected it sensed food inside. From my vantage point, I could see the dumpster was empty. I gave House August credit—the royal family was serious about sanitation.
The rat scampered toward the bus and stopped short about a foot from the bus’s exterior. I watched carefully.
“Come on, buddy. Don’t give up yet. One more try,” I said under my breath.
The rat started forward but only made it an inch before it bounced backward.
“And that’s a wrap, folks,” I said to no one in particular.
I finished the apple and threw the core to the back of the alley. I had a good arm. The security team even tried to recruit me for the House softball team, but Olis refused permission. Only employees were allowed to play under the stadium lights, not indentured servants. Their loss.
The rat turned and lumbered toward its snack.
In the distance I spotted movement. A rabble of butterflies meant vampire patrol. I recognized the orange and black colors of Doug’s team and checked my watch. Yep. Right on schedule.
Most people broke into an anxiety rash when they noticed a cluster of butterflies headed in their direction. Not me. I knew most of the vampires in the city, at least the ones with the ability to transform into butterflies. House August was smart enough to employ any vampire with advanced abilities, which was probably one of the reasons the royal family had managed to amass so much power. And even if I didn’t recognize a particular vampire, there was a decent chance they’d recognize me.
The bus rocked once from side to side. Blue light flashed around it.
Time to go.
I retrieved a pocket knife from my utility belt and waited for the air to grow still. No sense letting a breeze thwart my plan. I sliced my palm and let three drops of blood fall to the pavement just outside the bus.
That ought to do the trick.
I watched the tiny sparks with satisfaction. They must’ve decided the ancient bus was a decent hiding spot and they didn’t need a stronger ward.
They’d be wrong.
I hooked a bungee cord to the ledge and shimmied down the side of the building. The lack of light in this neighborhood would make my entrance easier.
When I reached the second floor, I released the cord and jumped. My boots hit the top of the bus with a thud. Not quite the nimble landing I intended. From there I jumped to the pavement.
The door jerked open and a head popped out to investigate the sound. I grabbed him by the neck and slammed him against the side of the bus, squeezing hard. “I could’ve sworn I heard somebody speaking Latin in there. Know anything about that?”
He struggled to speak but no words came out. No surprise since I was pressing on his windpipe.
“Inquisitor,” somebody yelled from inside the bus.
“Tell your buddies I’m not an inquisitor.” I noticed the man’s bulging eyes. “Hold on. I can see you’re busy. I’ll tell them.” Still gripping his neck, I poked my head inside the open door. “Hey, guys. Just FYI, I’m not an inquisitor.”
Another man ran to the door. Visible blue veins and a bright red scar made his face look like a topographical map featuring a river of blood.
Scarface shook a fist at me. “May the sun make you perish!”
“Ooh, burn. The ultimate insult. If I were a vampire, I’d be deeply offended.”
“You’re a disgrace to your kind.”
“Takes one to know one.” Very mature, I realized, but it was the first comeback that came to mind. “What are you guys doing in there? I saw blue light so unless you’re having a special sale…”
Fingers dug into my hand and I released my grip on the man’s neck. I wasn’t trying to kill him, although I was sure he didn’t see it that way.
I grabbed him by the collar and dragged him inside the bus. There were four men total and evidence of magic everywhere. Wizards. A redhead attempted to clear the contraband from view.
“Don’t bother, Clifford. I’ve already seen it.”
The redhead frowned. “Clifford?”
“The Big Red Dog?” I made a noise of exasperation. “Did no one here read children’s books? No wonder you turned to a life of crime.”
“If you’re not an inquisitor, then why do you care if we use magic?” my former chokehold victim asked.
“I work for House August and your little activities here are considered a security threat.”
“You’re one of us. How can you work for them?” Clifford asked.
“First, I’m not one of you. Second, we all do what we have to do to survive.”
“If that’s what you believe, then you should let us go,” the curly-haired wizard said. “We’re only trying to do the same.” He wore wire-rimmed spectacles and a T-shirt bearing an image of the Statue of Liberty. Instead of a torch, she held a wand.
“No, you’re trying to use magic for your own selfish purposes, which is illegal.”
“It isn’t selfish to want to feed our families,” Clifford said. “This is the only avenue available to us.”
“You’re lucky I’m the one finding you. Anybody else would’ve dragged the four of you into Times Square for a beheading and made a public spectacle of your deaths.”
The curly-haired wizard eyed me carefully. “You’re not going to do that?”
“Why not?” Scarface asked.
“Because I’m in a good mood and I’ve decided to let you off with a warning.”
“You have the authority to do that?” the redhead asked.
I tapped my chin. “Let me think. Are you going to tell anyone?”
Clifford shook his head. “Not me. Why are you in a good mood?”
“Aw, I’m so glad you asked. You see, I have it on good authority that the taco truck on Eighth Avenue is getting a shipment of avocados this week. Do you know what that means?”
They shook their heads.
I clapped my hands. “Guacamole, people. Come on.”
It was the little things that made life worth living. It had been at least a year since my last taste of guacamole and that was only because I’d worked security for the king and queen’s anniversary party at the royal compound and snuck as many guacamole-laden nibbles as I could manage without getting caught.
“I’m allergic to avocado,” Clifford said.
I rolled my eyes. “Of course you are.”
“Why were you watching us if you didn’t know what we were doing?” Scarface asked.
“I was made aware of an illegal shipment of mint to Battery Park and traced one of the larger deliveries to this bus.”
Scarface elbowed Clifford in the gut. “I told you not to purchase so much of it at once. Small transactions only.”
“I’ve been waiting for a couple days for something to happen and finally it did.” I clapped my hands once in dramatic fashion. “Let there be blue light!”
“We’re not hurting anybody,” Scarface complained.
“You’re hurting the system. Magic is against the law unless you have special dispensation like me. Latin is forbidden. Mint is for vampires only. End of story.”
“Vampires only outlawed magic because they know that witches and wizards would be able to overthrow them with it,” Clifford said.
Arms crossed, I looked down my nose at him. “And what magic spell would be powerful enough to eradicate vampire rule? I’d love to know.”
I turned to look at the fourth wizard who’d been silent this whole time and it was then that I saw it.
The makings of a magical bomb.
My stomach lurched. These wizards weren’t simply buying mint for healing tonics or their tea. I’d bet good money they were the wizards responsible for the subway bombing last month. Witnesses described a flash of blue light before the station blew up.
My gaze shifted from the bomb to Scarface. Our eyes locked and I saw the glimmer of recognition in his eyes.
“Displodo!” he yelled.
A snapping sound followed.
The four wizards shot out of the bus like their clothes were on fire. It took me a second but I got there in the end. A magical bomb was about to explode two feet away from me.
Blue light flashed in waves and I felt my body fly sideways and slam against a hard surface. Metal creaked and groaned. I toppled outside and landed on the pavement flat on my stomach. The inside of my mouth tasted like blood and my one eye didn’t seem to want to open. Pain bloomed on the side of my head.
Those slimy bastards. I should’ve rounded them up and presented them to Olis on a platter. Freakin’ Clifford. I bet the only thing big about him was his cowardice.
I gave myself a minute to recover from the blast. The bus was in pieces around me. No doubt all evidence of magic was gone. I’d have to track the four wizards from scratch.
I heard the crunch of metal as someone slowly and methodically made their way toward me. A Good Samaritan, mayhap? Unlikely. We didn’t have many of those in the city. It was everyone for themselves. Only vampires could afford to be magnanimous, not that it was in their nature. In my experience, they were inherently selfish creatures.
I lifted my chin off the ground and looked directly at a pair of familiar black boots. They were distinctive in that they bore the triquetra on each tongue. I only knew this because I’d been forced to scrub them on multiple occasions after incidents that may or may not have been my fault.
I turned my head sideways and peered up at my boss. “Hey, Olis.”
The wizard regarded me from beneath a line of judgmental peach fuzz that masqueraded as eyebrows. “Back to your usual shenanigans, I see.”
I scrambled to my feet. “Mission accomplished, sir.”
He waved a hand. “You call this mess an accomplishment?”
“I know what the mint is being used for. That’s the important part. Who cares about a teeny tiny explosion?”
“I believe it was Machiavelli who said that the ends justify the means,” Olis replied. “Is that the kind of person you’d like to align yourself with?”
“I work for vampires, sir.” I shot an apologetic look at the vampire beside him. “No offense, Bruno.”
Bruno shrugged. He was the most lackadaisical vampire I’d ever met, which was probably the reason he ended up on a security team alongside a witch and a wizard.
“Anyway, Machiavelli is widely misunderstood,” I continued.
Olis observed me with a mixture of amusement and irritation. “How so?”
“The concept is more complex. It doesn’t mean we can do what we want without consequences as long as the outcome is favorable.”
“Then what does it mean?” Olis asked.
I sighed. “Read The Prince and then Discourses on Livy and you’ll get a fuller picture.”
“How do you know all that?” Bruno asked.
“Because I communicate with his ghost at night.”
For a split second, Bruno looked like he might believe me. Then his raised brow morphed into a scowl.
“From books.” I patted his chest. “You should visit the library sometime. You might learn why you can’t transform into a butterfly like your superior vampire buddies.”
Bruno’s fangs snapped into place and I laughed.
Olis stepped between us. “Is that wise, Bruno?”
The vampire’s nostrils flared. “I’m not afraid of you, Britt the Bloody.”
I pointed at him. “That attitude right there proves how desperately you need an education.”
Olis grabbed me by the elbow and steered me away before things escalated. “Bruno, pick through the debris and see what you can find,” he called over his shoulder.
Good. Let Bruno do the grunt work for a change.
“Do you want me to write up a report on what I found? I think it’s connected to the subway bombing last month.”
Olis blinked rapidly. “Later. There’s a more pressing matter.”
I frowned. “More pressing than a magical bomb?”
“Your presence has been requested. That’s the reason I’m here.”
“Really? I thought you were here to discipline me.”
“Nothing,” I said quickly. He didn’t need to know that I’d intended to let the four escaped wizards go—before I discovered their treachery, of course.
“The queen has asked for you personally.”
I looked at him askance. “Queen Dionne?”
“Is there any other?”
“Well, let me think. There’s Queen Margot and Queen Iris. Is there a Queen Britannia or did I make that one up?”
He sighed in exasperation. “Is there any other queen who would summon you?”
“Technically, no, although I don’t know why Queen Dionne would want to see me. I don’t think she knows my name.”
I rarely interacted with the queen. With King Maxwell on a business trip and the prince-who-shall-not-be-named holding down the fort in the Southern Territories, Queen Dionne must’ve had no choice but to summon me herself.
“Clearly she knows it well enough to send for you. Does everything have to be combative with you?”
“The last time I exchanged words with the queen, it was for the king to offer me the choice between death and a life of servitude. Forgive me if I’m not in a hurry to relive that moment.”
Olis loosened his grip on my elbow. “I’m sure whatever the queen has in store for you—it isn’t death.”
Fear gathered at the base of my tongue and I swallowed. “I’ve never known you to be wrong, Olis. Do me a favor and don’t start now.”
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