The Elusive Ending

Barbara Custer struggled with an elusive ending in some of the tales in City of Brotherly Death.Recently, I received a jewel of a submission for Night to Dawn. Every word counted; every line urged me to keep reading. I was revving up to write a nice acceptance letter. Then the story ended, but the ending stopped me. A part of the plot was left unfinished. I wondered, where’s the rest of the story? So I emailed the writer, requesting a revision. Most of the time, when I request a rewrite, it involves the ending.

What makes the ending so tough to write? Because sometimes our characters take us in unexpected directions, and so the perfect ending we had envisioned doesn’t sound so good after all. For my WIP, I cheated and wrote the ending, but something tells me I’ll need to revise because of the changes in my characters. It means tying up the subplots and showing that my character has changed. “Twist” endings are nice, but they have to be believable. The ending has succeeded when, upon arriving at the last word, you and your reader feel satisfied. I once read a complaint about a book, saying that the author must have been awfully tired when he wrote the ending. I admire writers with published anthologies because they’ve had to come up with a passel of meaningful endings.

Beginnings and endings can be a bear to write. My worst experience with endings happened with “One Last Favor,” one of the stories in City of Brotherly Death. That book went to an editor. “One Last Favor” had a less than satisfactory ending and she called me on it. A flurry of emails went back and forth with the editor making suggestions. I still felt lost, so I took the ending pages to my writers’ group. More suggestions. I decided that characters Tara and Chris were going to marry. The editor did another read through, and noted that I had to tie up Tara’s pursuit by the revenants stalking the town (“One Last Favor” is a zombie tale). Back to the writers’ group again, and another round of emails with my editor. We finally reached a conclusion that worked. Toni demonstrated the patience of a saint, helping me improve my ending.

It took almost a month plus three of my best curse words to get through the ending of “One Last Favor.” I can empathize with people who struggle through the ending pages. So when an author submits work that has an unsatisfying ending, I’ll work with them to help make it better.

Do you find yourself struggling to get an ending that works? I’d like to hear about your experiences.


You can watch a Steel Rose video here.

One randomly drawn commenter will receive a signed copy of Steel Rose and a $10 GC for Starbucks.


 Also click on the red links on the bottom – these are the links to fellow members of the Coffinhop.  This Coffinhop will run October 24 to 31, including the release of Coffinhop: Death by Drive-in to benefit

Where Paul DeBlassie III, Author of The Unholy, Gets his Ideas

UnholyThe_Unholy_Banner_copyIdeas come from the deep repository of the collective unconscious mind that inspires images and symbols during the fantasies of waking life and during dreams and nightmares. Mainly, it’s the nightmare stuff that bodes best for writing psychological thrillers and dark fantasy such as is in The Unholy. When I wake up in a cold sweat with the characters of the novels threatening me (I remember when Archbishop William Anarch, sinister prelate in The Unholy tormented me for nights on end, demanding that I not write the story) that’s when I know that real inspiration is flowing and that to listen to it and follow the images and symbols that emerge from my deep, unconscious mind during sleep and during the reverie of writing the story will end up in the development of spine tingling realities that jettison both me as the writer and the reader into phantasmagoric realms that have a way of shaking up conscious mindsets and get our heads blown out in a very, very unsettling but ultimately useful way. My writing, in other words, comes from an inner place of torment that needs to be let out so it can be set right. When mind stuff is set right inside me I can feel it by sensing a quality of being at peace, that I’ve written to the best of my ability and been true to the deep, archetypal energies swirling through my mind during the narrative. It really is a trip to listen to ideas, let them become images, and suddenly have them take over a page. It’s like the pages catch fire and everyone has come to life and things become disorderly, fraught with conflict, and danger looms.


The Unholy contains psychological suspense.


A young curandera, a medicine woman, intent on uncovering the secrets of her past is forced into a life-and-death battle against an evil Archbishop. Set in the mystic land of Aztlan, The Unholy is a novel of destiny as healer and slayer. Native lore of dreams and visions, shape changing, and natural magic work to spin a neo-gothic web in which sadness and mystery lure the unsuspecting into a twilight realm of discovery and decision.


Lightning streaked across a midnight dark sky, making the neck hairs of a five-year-old girl crouched beneath a cluster of twenty-foot pines in the Turquoise Mountains of Aztlan stand on end. The long wavy strands of her auburn mane floated outward with the static charge. It felt as though the world was about to end.

Seconds later, lightning struck a lone tree nearby and a crash of thunder shook the ground. Her body rocked back and forth, trembling with terror. She lost her footing, sandstone crumbling beneath her feet, and then regained it; still, she did not feel safe. There appeared to be reddish eyes watching from behind scrub oaks and mountain pines, scanning her every movement and watching her quick breaths. Then everything became silent.

The girl leaned against the trunk of the nearest tree. The night air wrapped its frigid arms tightly around her, and she wondered if she would freeze to death or, even worse, stay there through the night and by morning be nothing but the blood and bones left by hungry animals. Her breaths became quicker and were so shallow that no air seemed to reach her lungs. The dusty earth gave up quick bursts of sand from gusts of northerly winds that blew so fiercely into her nostrils that she coughed but tried to stifle the sounds because she didn’t want to be noticed.


Paul De Blassie is the author of The Unholy

Author Information:

Paul DeBlassie III, Ph.D., is a psychologist and writer living in Albuquerque who has treated survivors of the dark side of religion for more than 30 years. His professional consultation practice — SoulCare — is devoted to the tending of the soul. Dr. DeBlassie writes fiction with a healing emphasis. He has been deeply influenced by the mestizo myth of Aztlan, its surreal beauty and natural magic.  He is a member of the Depth Psychology Alliance, the Transpersonal Psychology Association and the International Association for Relational Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy.

One randomly drawn commenter will receive the choice of a $50 Amazon/BN gift card.

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The Unholy contains psychological suspense by Paul De Blassie


Angel of Syn Author Shares Thoughts on Outlining

Angel of Syn features paranormal thriller.Outlines are the Zombies Eating my Brain

As a writer, I’m constantly striving to improve my craft. There’s a ton of information and advice out there. But it seems everywhere I’ve looked lately has led to experts and/or seasoned writers talking about outlining stories. They lecture the need to lay the bones of the plot in the right sequence so elbows are attached to arms instead of legs and heads sit atop necks, not hip bones. I have no doubt that this is very desirable when building a person-shaped thing. But what if the thing is story-shaped?

I confess to being the type of writer than sits at the keyboard with only the barest wisp of an idea before plunging ahead. The voices in my head tell me what to do next. Wait. That didn’t sound right. My story characters’ voices in my head tell me what to do next. Better.

My attempts at outlines feel like Doctor Frankenstein’s creation but not as handsome or talented at tap-dancing. I’ve tried to create outlines. Really. Many times. In different mediums and multiple colors. I’ve built my skeletons, even grown some flesh on them. But what comes shambling out is not what I intended at all.

And they all want to eat my brain.

Okay, maybe it just feels like they want to chomp on my gray matter. The theory of outlining a story is a solid one. It makes perfect sense, and seems like an exceedingly logical way to proceed. The problem is that, like zombies, outlines are scary, partially formed things chasing after you with serious noshing on their minds or stomachs, whatever. To me, the thought of writing to an outline is like that of a zombie eagerly sucking brains through a straw sticking out of a hole in my head – akin to a coconut husk cocktail on Tiki night at the Luau.

So why even try to outline if it doesn’t work for me? I have a guilty little squirmy feeling that I haven’t really given outlining a chance. And I might be missing out on a really good thing. The zombie might not be irredeemable. Like the zombie guy in Warm Bodies, there might be a heartbeat under the disintegrating skin of its chest. So, I want to believe. I want to believe that the magical properties of outlining will be able to transform the zombie into a hot guy, uh, I mean, into a useful member of society (no, I really meant hot guy). I’m going to try outlining my third novel to the Synemancer trilogy (tentatively titled Dark Syns). And if I have any brain matter left after that, I’ll call it a success and be enlightened to the joys of outlining. Unfortunately, just typing that last sentence made something dribble out of my ear. Well, let’s see what happens.


Angel of Syn features a paranormal thriller.BLURB:

Contemporary witch Cara Augustine goes international and inter-dimensional, from San Francisco to France to an alternate Eden-like dimension, in this second book of the Synemancer series.

Cara is a fugitive, pursued by the Portalkind police for breaking a major covenant. When she accidentally made a werewolf her witch’s familiar, it amounted to enslaving a human. And the punishment is death. On the run for her life, she and her companions stumble into a strange paradise dimension. But they quickly find the dangerous world is filled with strange creatures, deadly and beautiful. And, because she’s quickly learning a Synemancer’s life is never simple.  Cara has to deal with an amorous Nephilim (half-angel half-witch), a dangerously deranged French werewolf, and the darkly handsome Nightkind she just might love. Each powerful supernatural man has his own reasons for wanting to possess Cara, body and soul. But if the Portalkind police catch her, she’ll be in a fight for her life.


The Angel of Syn features a paranormal thriller.I currently live with my husband and dogs in northern California.  I have a son who attends college in San Francisco. After years of working in the business world while secretly wishing I could be a writer, I finally took a leap of faith and started writing. My first book, SYN IN THE CITY, was published in 2010 and I haven’t looked back since.  Well maybe a few glances in the rearview mirror, just to see if anyone was tailing me, but not many.



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Amazon EBook:

Mertianna will be awarding a canvas tote bag printed with the book cover on one side and a saying on the other (“Are you a syn-er?”), and filled with goodies plus a $20 Amazon gift card to a randomly drawn commenter during the tour (S ONLY).



Bart straightened from his defensive semi-crouch, still eyeing the Hounds warily. I glanced around the room to see if the orbs were here, but they were nowhere in sight. The mirror chimed and shimmered for the umpteenth time since I’d come into the room. A tall, pale man dressed in black and wearing a black backpack walked into the room. Azrael stood silently on Amelia’s hardwood floor, and by the expression on his beautiful face, he was angry enough to chew spells and spit out hexes.  He quickly scanned the room.   His ice-blue eyes focused on me and I had his full attention.  All Hades was about to break loose.  With two weres, two Hellhounds, and a Nightkind in the room, the situation was about to get bloody.



Critique Groups: Debra Dunbar, Author of Eleven Blood

Elven Blood is Debra Dunbar's answer to fantasy fiction.I’ve never been in a traditional critique group, but last year I signed up for a short-term one at our local college. The class met for four session, one each week, and we discussed the first twenty pages of each student’s novel of their choice. We wound up with 2 critiques per week, so there was a bit of work involved.

The appeal was that the class gave me feedback from a broad swath of readers – all ages, both male and female, writers of fiction and non-fiction. I was finished with the draft of my second book in the Imp series and hoped this would be a great opportunity to have fresh eyes give the novel a review. My hope was that other writers would be articulate enough to let me know any issues they had with the early part of the novel.

And, of course, there is the dreaded “series” conundrum. Is the recap too much? Does it read like an info-dump of what happened in the first novel? Is it too little? Are readers thrown unprepared into a new world and characters, drowning in references they don’t understand? What is critical to bring readers up to speed in the first few pages, and what can be sprinkled in throughout the latter parts of the novel?

I went into the critique group thinking to learn more about my own novel, but it was reading and giving feedback on everyone else’s work that really brought me the most value. I tend to be a rather forgiving reader, skimming over the rough spots and concentrating on what works well. Having to comment on these other works helped me to look closer, to realize that each word, each sentence provides a sense of unity to the flow and tone of the book.

Among the many novel excerpts I read a funny memoir, a promising quirky thriller, a rather convoluted dark drama, and a stream-of-consciousness psychological fiction. And I got feedback on Satan’s Sword– feedback that helped me tighten up the beginning, give my characters more emotion, and balance action with a slower paced descriptive scene. Not bad for a four-week class and a twenty page review!

I’m again taking the class, this time with many new authors participating. Personally, I like this type of critique group far more than the dedicated participant model. I love that each time I get a whole new perspective on my writing, and I love exploring and learning from another author’s work.

Others may work better with a set group that sees their novels and writing style as they evolve, but, for me, this was the best model. Maybe your local college has one, too. If not, perhaps you’re just the person to set one up!


Author’s Biography and Links:

Debra Dunbar lives on a farm in the northeast United States with her husband, three boys, and a Noah’s ark of four legged family members.  Her urban fantasy novels feature supernatural elements in local settings. In addition to A Demon Bound, Satan’s Sword, and Elven Blood, she has also published a short story erotica series titled Naughty Mom. Connect with her on Twitter @debra_dunbar, on Facebook at debradunbarauthor, and on her website at

A Demon Bound:

Satan’s Sword:

Debra will be awarding an e-book copy of A DEMON BOUND (book 1 in the Imp Series) to a randomly drawn commenter at every stop, and a grand prize of a Kindle Fire with an ELVEN BLOOD book cover skin to one randomly drawn commenter during the tour (US ONLY). E-book copies of A Demon Bound and Satan’s Sword and a basket of awesome swag will be awarded to a randomly drawn host.


Elven Blood is Debra Dunbar's answer to fantasy fiction.


Sam may be the Iblis, but she is also an imp with a price on her head.  The powerful demon Haagenti won’t rest until she’s dragged back to Hel for “punishment”.  Sam knows she can’t face Haagenti and win, so when an Elf Lord offers to eliminate the demon in return for her help, Sam accepts.  It’s a simple job – find and retrieve a half-breed monster dead or alive.  But finding this demon/elf hybrid isn’t proving easy and time is running out.



The hiss of Wyatt’s shower penetrated through the fog of my pre-caffeinated brain.  I was still sprawled on the bed, hidden under a heap of covers, wondering whether I could sneak in a few more minutes of sleep. It was rent day, and I was already late in making my collection rounds.  Stretching, I poked my head from under the blanket and watched a small lizard cross the floor.  It had a scorpion tail, pointed ears and crimson eyes that darted intelligently across the room.  Those red eyes locked onto the bed just as I realized this wasn’t a lizard.  It was a demon—and not the usual Low one either.

There was a flash, and I rolled across the bed and onto the floor just before the mattress sliced into two smoking sections.  Unfortunately I was trapped in a tangle of sheets.  Instinctively I converted my form, deconstructing my usual human one into basic atoms and re-assembling into a creature that was small and hard to kill.

I heard a muffled curse, and I felt the sheets snatched from above me.  The demon was no longer a lizard; he was bipedal with furry, clawed legs and a scaled torso.  Arms hung down past his knees, ending in sharp hooks.  His head twisted and turned, forked tongue tasting the air as he searched for me.

Elven Blood is Debra Dunbar's answer to fantasy fiction.

Store Brand versus Name Brand…when Best Laid Plans Float Away

Recently I tried to shave my grocery bill by buying store brand cereals and other items. With cereals, I didn’t notice any difference in the consistency or taste. The store brand ice cream had a flat taste, however, so I continued to pony up the money for name brand. Most store brands are no-frills. You get the same quality and ingredients, but you lose the pretty packaging and designs, especially with paper products. As for tissues…well, my nose didn’t notice any difference. I was able to get manila envelopes at the dollar store for a fifth of what I’d pay in a stationary store. For medications, I’ve stayed with the name brand Allegra because there’s something reassuring about the orange color of the pill. Otherwise, the generic medicines work just as well.

Sometimes, when the store’s offering a great sale and a coupon, I find it cheaper to stick with name brands. At the Giant last week, I bought a box of Eggo Waffles for seventy-five cents. Because I had a decent coupon, I got two Venus disposable razor packs for the price of one. Allegra’s always on sale, and with a generous coupon, too. Today, I found HP paper on clearance, and got two packs for $5.00 each. I recommend sticking with HP or other name brand computer paper and ink because the wrong paper / ink can damage or jam your printer.

Why do I go through all this trouble to save money? Because I have Walter Mitty dreams of getting my bedroom redone. Perhaps I want to save the money for jewelry or a trip. Maybe I saw a Coach purse with my name on it. So the question is, did I succeed in saving money at the supermarket? So far, no.

This past shopping expedition was a case of best laid plans floating away…literally. When I walked into the Giant, a glittery Mylar balloon with bows blocked my passage. I tried running the other way and bumped into a Mylar planter. Going sideways, I headed straight into a Mylar heart with butterflies – all Mother’s Day balloons and pricey ones at that.

“Why?” I gazed at the balloons helplessly. “I’m not a mother. I don’t have any children.”

“Of course, you do.” The balloons smiled at me. “You’ve got 68 balloons and you’ve been a great mother to them.”

So the glittery balloon with the bows went home with me. Cost: nine dollars. What’s more, I drove home with the AC on because I didn’t want the balloon to overheat. I remember shaking my head, thinking I was the first person on this planet to use air conditioning for a balloon’s comfort. But this one is a real beauty and well worth it.

Mylar balloons always find their way into Barbara Custer's zombie fiction.

I couldn’t resist tempting Barbara!

This got me to contemplating my character Alexis of Steel Rose and her buying habits. If Alexis could jump out of the pages, she’d brain me for spending nine dollars on a balloon. She and I make the same salary, but she takes a plethora of expensive medicines that insurance doesn’t cover well. She’s got to stick with store brand items so she can pay for her treatment, although in a weak moment, she might indulge in a CD. In the sequel, When Blood Reigns, things are getting ugly fast. Because of the zombie invasions, traditional mail and FedEx have ceased services to Philadelphia.

Because of this a zombie invasion may preclude balloon offerings at any supermarket. Fewer stores would remain open, if any, and soldiers would police the aisles for walking dead. In Alexis’ world, I’d buy whatever brands I could get and thank God I made it to the store alive. I’d hope I had plenty of food at home because shopping might mean a longer drive. The balloon with the bows might be available through the black market, so I’d better prepare to spend twenty dollars.

This is assuming I can get to the supermarket and back unharmed.

Zombies aren’t choosy where they feed, especially if they’re hungry. A bunch of them might gang up on my car while I’m heading to the store. My option? Shop at a local deli or learn to use a gun. I tried picturing myself shooting zombies so I could get to a supermarket. Yeah, it could happen. You always find a way when you want something badly. An image formed in my mind of me staring at the gun, and thinking, good grief, I’m the first person in creation who shot zombies so she could buy a balloon.

So, do you find buying store brands have saved you money? How would a zombie invasion affect your hobbies and shopping habits? I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

How would this zombie affect Barbara Custer's purchase of Mylar balloons?

How would this monster affect Balloon Lady’s shopping habits?


Interview with Author Michelle Hoefle


Barbara: Hi, Michelle! It’s great to have you with us. Can you tell us a little something about your book?

Michelle: Carpathian Blood: A Carpathian Blood Novel follows Mackenzie into a Terranian vs. Vampyre War…Will Vlad be her salvation or her damnation?

Mackenzie travels to Romania to begin a new life with her younger brother, Alain. She doesn’t plan on being a meal for a vampire. When her rescuer reveals himself, she wants no part of his life or his war, but her traitorous heart has other ideas. The dark and dangerous Vlad wants her for himself and will stop at nothing to possess her heart and soul. However, after a brutal attack can their love conquer the challenges that face them?

Barbara: What was the inspiration for Carpathian Blood?

Michelle: I have always enjoyed reading paranormal romance novels and have been waiting for a book or series about an extraterrestrial race of beings that are very similar to humans, but have to ingest blood to survive. Lara Adrian (one my favourite authors) came close, but I envisioned a world totally different from her creations. When other popular authors did not come up with a book like I had envisioned, I created one myself. From there, the series was born.

Barbara: What characters were the most interesting to write?

Michelle: Vlad was the most interesting of the characters in the first book. The amount of research that I did to incorporate the history of Vlad Tepes was the reason he was so interesting. Of course I played with history for his role, but thoroughly enjoyed reading about the real “Vlad.”

Barbara: Which characters can you identify with?

Michelle: Mackenzie has to live through a series of bad events. First, losing her parents, then a vicious attack. I haven’t lived through anything quite like that, but I have definitely had my fair share of life altering events happen. So I identify with her the most, at least from the first book’s characters (you’ll have to continue reading the series to know which character mirrors me…hehehehe).

Barbara: If Carpathian Blood were made into a movie, which actor / actress would you want to play your main characters (Vlad and Mackenzie)?

Michelle: I definitely see Vlad’s character as being portrayed by someone who is devastatingly handsome, but rugged…Hugh Jackman. He’s well built (to say the least) and his accent fits the bill, not to mention he is one hell of an actor. Oh, and did I mention that he is dreamily sexy? “Purrrrrrrrrfectly so”

Mackenzie is young in the book, so her face should be fresh and young, but filled with life experience. Jordana Brewster would be a fresh face and a good choice I think. She has proven to be beautiful under fire so to speak in her action roles.

Barbara: What kind of challenges did you have, if any, writing this book?

Michelle: Carpathian Blood came very easily actually. My daughters are grown, so I have plenty of time to write. The difficulties did not come until I began book four. My muse took an extended vacation, so I ended up deleting more than half of what I wrote and had to rewrite it. I hate it when that happens, don’t you?

Barbara: I can relate to the frustration of a muse that takes a vacation. Tell us a little something about yourself that’s not in your biography.

Michelle: I was a fingernail biter until just a few years ago. Oh, and I love thunderstorms.

Barbara: What are some of your favorite reads about vampires and aliens?

Michelle: That would be Lara Adrian in her Breed Series. Hands down the best Alien Vampire novels to date. Okay, except mine (of course I have to say that, I am the author…hehehe)

Barbara: Describe the ultimate supernatural / paranormal man.

Michelle: At least six feet tall, broad shoulders, defined muscles, dark eyes, long black hair, and a libido that would put Casanova to shame! Oh, and did I mention that he had to be a vampire/werewolf hybrid?

Barbara: Will Carpathian Blood have a sequel? Any other projects in the works?

Michelle: Oh yes, the series will be at least seven books long, possibly more if the series is well received. I am working on book five now.

Barbara: Where can your readers find you on the Internet?

Michelle: I have a Facebook author page at

My Amazon page is at

Barbara: Any sage advice for aspiring authors out there?

Michelle: Write because you love it, not to get famous or rich. If you have a story to tell, tell it no matter how long it takes you to tell it. Do not listen to negativity and take constructive criticism to heart only to make your craft better. Never mourn the past. Leave it where it is, in the past. Last but not least, always…ALWAYS add the words “in bed” after every fortune cookie fortune.



I live in Lake Panasoffkee, FL with my mother, my brother, my two aunts, our four dogs, and three cats. I have two beautiful daughters that currently live in Michigan and are now on their own journeys in life. I am 45 years young and my hobbies include reading and woodcarving.

My inspiration for reading and writing comes from my mother. She used to read me bedtime stories when I was little, but she also read me works of Steven King and Dean Koontz when I got older. It was our special time together away from reality. So I have always enjoyed reading and thought about trying my hand at writing many times, but I just never sat down to do it. With my daughters now grown and my life a bit more settled, I revisited my love of writing with my brother’s encouragement. It is turning out to be an exciting and fun journey to write the books and now see them published.

Some of my favorite authors include Steven King, Dean Koontz, J.R. Ward, Jeaniene Frost, Lynsay Sands, Lara Adrian, and Christine Feehan. They are my favorites, but I love reading just about anything. I generally try to stay in Romantic Paranormal Fiction, but of course there are some non-fiction works that I have read.



Chapter One: Carpathian Mountains, Romania Present day

Mackenzie and Alain Hilton hiked through the woods outside of the Romanian Village of Aninoasa. The hills here at the base of the Carpathian Mountains were extraordinarily beautiful. The trees and the meadows were different shades of bright green with the tall majestic pines and the birch and the oak. Here in late August, it was already chilly during the later part of the day. The terrain was rugged and completely natural, the villages were all widely spaced apart, and there was not a lot of technology to get in the way of Mother Nature. Mack looked to her brother knowing that they really needed this move. Romania was a world away from the flat, humid, sandiness of Florida.

They were crossing a meadow of tall grass that still held blooms of multi-colored wildflowers. They followed a path that looked to eventually lead higher into the hills and bluffs at the southern base of the central Carpathian Mountains. “Are you ready to go back to the inn yet? It’s getting late, almost four o’clock,” she asked her brother as she looked at her watch.

He smiled up at her, “No sis, not yet, k? I want to make it to those rocks up ahead.”

“I don’t know Alain, they are pretty far still and we have to make it back to the inn before dusk. I’ll compromise, we turn back now and tomorrow we’ll make a day out of hiking back up here to the bluffs. Have the cook make us a picnic with snacks and everything,” Mackenzie put her hand on his small shoulders and then tousled his spiky brown hair.

Alain was nine years old going on thirty. It was not his fault that life got in the way of his childhood. Mackenzie was twenty-three and had been raising Alain on her own since she was sixteen and he was two. Their parents died as a result of a drunk driver. Mack was able to get her GED at the age of sixteen and become an emancipated minor. She got a job as a bike courier and, after a short stay in the foster care system, was able to keep custody of Alain due to a good-hearted social worker.

The reason they were in Romania of all places? Mackenzie would start her new job as a travel consultant in Bucharest the following week. She had worked hard the last two years completing a hospitality management course at the community college in her home town of Sumterville, FL. She and Alain had spun their old globe, closed their eyes and blindly picked where to begin their new life together. Hands clasped, fingers pointed, they had landed on Bucharest, Romania. Now here they were with a new life, a new adventure, and a fresh start for them both.

A cold wind breezed through her, chilling her bones through her jean jacket. She looked around, suddenly becoming uneasy. “Okay bubby, let’s head back, I’ll race you,” she suggested, wanting to get out of the meadow now, right now.

Alain took up the challenge as she knew he would, “I’ll beat you Mack, I always beat you!”

They began jogging back down the path, making it to the border of woods. Headed back in the direction of the village inn, she thought the uneasy feeling would pass, but the inner chill increased sharply as they entered the forest. She had just opened her mouth to call out to Alain when out of the woods to her right, a large black shape came hurtling toward her, knocking her to the ground. Her breath exploded out of her lungs as she hit the ground hard. A heavy weight was pinning her down and she screamed as she felt a piercing pain in her neck. The pain was beyond anything she had felt before, the burning was intense. The creature’s weight was suddenly gone and sounds of grunts, cursing, and of fighting came to her. Alain was beside her crying and screaming her name, she tried to tell him that everything was ok, but her throat would not form the words. Why wouldn’t her throat work? She was cold, so cold…

Vlad stood over the shriveling corpse of the vampire, aware of the boy’s crying and screaming, he quickly turned his attention to the woman lying prone on the forest floor. She was bleeding profusely from the tear in her throat. He bent over her on the opposite side of the young male. Vlad took precious seconds to quickly read the boy’s mind, his name was Alain Hilton and the woman was Mackenzie, his older sister. They were here in the village on holiday before she was to begin a job in Bucharest the following week. He turned his attention to the woman lying sprawled on the ground, a thought foremost in his mind: Brousha! The thought came to him in his own language out of nowhere. It translated to roughly soul mate here on Earth.

Pushing that thought aside, he concentrated on healing the female. With only minutes available to him, he leaned over her throat, his tongue sealing her torn flesh. He then brought his wrist to his mouth and tore the skin away with his fangs. He pressed his bleeding wound to her still seeping throat, his healing purple blood mixing with her red cells. Her brother was in mild shock and lifted large, fearful blue eyes to his, “W-w-what are y-you doing to her?”

He replied very softly, very calmly, “I am saving her lad, I am saving her. My name is Vlad Romaninsky and you and I are going to great friends Alain Hilton.” He lifted his bleeding wrist to her mouth and began to massage her healing throat so that she would swallow his blood. Vlad knew that he was performing an unforgivable sin against this innocent woman. However, he could not let her die, especially knowing that she was the only relative of young Alain, reading the knowledge from the youth’s thoughts. With his free hand he brought his satellite phone out and pressed the number for the compound.

Lot’s voice answered, “Hello my fearless leader!”

“I have a wounded civilian, human, and her younger brother with me. She was attacked. I am giving her blood now, but we will need a pick up ASAP. Get my GPS from the phone, I am outside the Village of Aninoasa, the Northeast sector. Tell Heltra to hurry Lotris, there was another with the vampire that I dusted, he is still out here,” he rambled off the orders.

“You got it boss man. Heltra is leaving now with your coordinates and will be at your location in twenty minutes. Meet her on the lane due west of your location. Hey, is the human pretty by the way? I only ask because now that you have given her your blood she’s a keeper.” Lotris’ humor knew no bounds.

Vlad growled menacingly into the phone, Brousha! The thought slid through his mind again. “Whoa there good buddy, only joking,” Lotris could be a real comedian at times. He was also a good friend and brother in arms, as well as a genius with Earth’s technology so Vlad could not kill him, not really.

Mackenzie came back to awareness with a wonderful, rich flavor in her mouth. She thought perhaps a rich Porte? Where was she and why was she so cold? She moved her fingers feeling the ground with one hand. Well that explained the cold, after all one does not lie on the ground in the woods of the Carpathian Mountains in late August and not expect to be cold. She remembers being in the woods…the creature…Alain!

Her eyes flew open looking around wildly, spotting Alain, she breathed out in relief, he looked to be alright. She then noticed the man bending over her. Her eyes widened, wow, Fabian had nothing on this guy. His hair was a rich dark brown and was pulled back from his strong features with a leather thong. His black brows slashed over cold black obsidian eyes, framed by long eyelashes. His cheekbones were high and pronounced. His nose was straight and proud, his jaw was squared and strong, with a five o’clock shadow. But his lips…his lips were full, sensual. He had very broad shoulders encased in a leather trench coat and black tee-shirt.

All of this took only seconds to sink in as she became aware that this stranger’s wrist was pressed to her mouth. Blood? Blood! That wonderful taste was blood! Her stomach heaved and she brought her hands up weakly to try to fend him away. What kind of sicko was he? Thinking that she had just entered the Twilight Zone or a Dracula role playing game that had gone terribly wrong, she looked again at Alain. Fear and adrenaline making her strong, she pushed the stranger’s arm away and sat up clutching Alain to her. The man brought his wrist to his mouth and licked the wound. Curiously that action made her insides clench.

“Who are you and what do you want?” Her voice croaked out, her throat was very sore. While scooting backwards along the ground, she tried to drag Alain away from the man. She knew some self-defense, but this guy was huge and could break her like a twig. Crouched on the ground as he was, he reminded her of a large jungle cat, a deadly predator.

“I know that you are scared, Mackenzie. I am Vlad Romaninsky and I mean you no harm.” His voice was velvety soft, a low base.

“Yeah riiiight, is that why you almost tore out my throat?!” She tried to yell, it came out hoarse whisper.

“Umm, Mack?” she looked at Alain, “Vlad didn’t hurt you. That man over there did, Vlad saved you, he saved us.”

Mack looked in the direction that Alain had pointed, there on the ground was a mummified body that lay in black clothes. She started to tremble, her hand going to her neck, feeling the roughened, raised scars, “What the hell!” she croaked out.

“I know that you are frightened, however, as this one was not alone when I was hunting him,” Vlad nodded back towards the body, “I want to get you and young Alain out of these woods as soon as possible.” Vlad stood and offered her his hand.

She stared at his hand then met his eyes, “You swear that you aren’t going to hurt us?” She thought, stupid Mackstupid, like he would admit it if he was planning on committing harry carry all over her ass?

“I swear on my life, that no harm will come to you or young Alain from me or my people,” Vlad placed his right fist over his heart and bowed slightly.

It was an old world courtly gesture, how odd. He held out his hand to her again and she slowly took it. He helped her to stand, then held her by the arm to steady her when she swayed. After making sure she would stay upright he turned his attention to the body. He pulled a pack of matches from his pocket, lit the packet and dropped it on the body. The flames roared to life and almost immediately turned the remains to grayish ash. He turned back to Mackenzie, scooping her into his arms he started into the woods heading west. “Stay close by me Alain,” he ordered the boy. Alain jogged beside his longed legged gait.

“What do you think you are doing?! Put me down this instant,” Mack’s throat was still raw and sore so her demands came out as whispers. “I can walk you know, besides we are going the wrong way. The village inn is back that way!”

“We are meeting one of my people to the west of here, she will have a vehicle for us.” Vlad explained, “Besides if I put you down you may try to run, and Mackenzie, I will catch you if you try. We have many things to discuss you and I,” his dark eyes glittered ominously.

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