Allegiance (Causal Enchantment #3)


by K.A. Tucker

Prologue

A spine-chilling crack jerked Imogen’s attention to the center of the atrium. There, nestled among charred heaps of vampires and Sentinel—their bodies still smoldering—stood the snow-white marble woman, quietly reaching for the heavens. The sorceress’s nostrils curled in disgust, the smell of death permeating the air.

Twelve hours ago, Imogen led the strike on the Manhattan lair of the two most notorious vampires. She and her band of twenty-four witches exploded through the iron gates, trailing two hundred spelled Sentinel—fools who had proven useful as bloody bait to distract the horde of vampires seeking asylum. The attack, which took months of planning and one timely sorceress kidnapping, was devastatingly successful.

A few leeches escaped, including the three targets. Disappointing, but not entirely unexpected. At least now they had the vampire lair and whatever lay protected within these walls. Something here had kept those two monsters cocooned for over a hundred years, believing they were invisible. Something involving Sofie’s sister, based on what Imogen’s spy—Ileana—divulged. What exactly, no one knew. Ileana had tried gently prodding into Viggo’s mind, but it was impregnable. Either way, the sorceresses now had the building and all its secrets within.

They quickly secured the entrance with an illusion spell to cover the destruction of the entrance way and re-established the Merth barrier—that wonderful vampire-paralyzing substance that Imogen had only heard of from the legends but had never seen. From there, the sorceresses introduced the next level of their strategy.

Until this new development …

Gasps surrounded Imogen as the group watched tiny fissures spider across the statue’s torso like ice cracking over a lake. The cracks expanded, crawling up her arms and neck, all the way down to her ankles.

“What’s happening?” Imogen hissed. When she didn’t get an immediate response, she turned to the group, her wild mane of billowing black and silver-streaked hair enhancing the menace in her eyes. “Maybe there’s something inside.” Imogen answered her own question. A new enemy. Ten tiny flames appeared at Imogen’s fingertips. The other sorceresses followed suit, arming themselves with magic, ready to quash the new threat about to reveal itself.

An avalanche of marble smashed to the floor as the statue crumbled. Gauzy white fabric appeared first, followed by creamy legs … arms … shoulders … long chestnut ringlets spilled down as the marble disappeared around the creature’s back, revealing a young woman.

A stir of suspicion unsettled Imogen. She had heard the stories … “But how?” The question barely touched her lips, her whisper so soft.

“Human?” someone whispered from behind her. Dozens of purple coils, invisible to a human, shot forward like probing tentacles to interrogate the unraveled creature. The coils cocooned the creature’s frail body, caressing her cheeks, probing her body, attempting to penetrate her vital organs in search of information. The magical coils dissolved as they made contact. Several gasps of realization echoed.

“She’s immune to our magic!” Imogen hissed, now flabbergasted. “How is that possible?” No one hazarded an explanation. Every sorceress stood, frozen. Watching, waiting.

Long eyelashes fluttered as the creature blinked to focus on her surroundings. “Allo?” She called out hesitantly.“Allo? Est-il temps?”

“Who is she? Is she French? Why can’t our magic touch her?” The panicked questions began, the group looking to their leader for answers.

Imogen lifted her chin, exuding confidence she didn’t feel at this moment. “Let’s find out, shall we?” She stepped forward. Inside, panic whirled. No, it couldn’t be … how on earth had that redheaded bitch pulled this off?

“Oui! Enfin!” The young woman cried out in relief, an angelic smile spreading across her face, oblivious to the imminent threat approaching her. As Imogen advanced, she watched olive green orbs widen, taking in her surroundings—the smoldering ash, the destroyed building, the ring of witches, fingers ablaze, the crumbled marble around her feet. The smile slid off her beautiful face.

Imogen stopped twenty feet away, sidestepping a pile of corpses. “Who are you?”

Confusion flashed across the woman’s pretty face, “Veronique …”

Imogen breathed a giant sigh of triumph as whispers drifted among the witches. They had all heard the sordid tale of Sofie’s sister. It was legend. Rumor had it she simply disappeared one day. All had assumed one of her two leech lovers killed her. But now they knew what those three had done. And they had her.

“Where is Sofie?” Veronique asked timidly, switching to English. Her brow furrowed, her startled eyes roamed, suddenly halting, latching onto one of the ash mounds. Imogen watched the woman study the mounds more intently. Recognition finally passed over those haunting olive eyes and she released a blood-curdling scream.

“Quick! Secure her!” Imogen commanded. There was no reason, though. Veronique collapsed into an unconscious heap on the dais, smacking her forehead on a jagged piece of marble. A small pool of blood formed beneath her. “So … now we have Sofie’s sister.” Imogen’s lips curved into a smile as she reached for her cell phone. The Sect would want to know. “When she wakes up, let’s get as much information out of her as possible. Any means necessary,” she added. Probing spells wouldn’t work. It would take good old brute force; likely little of it. “They’ll be coming back for this one and we’ll be ready.”

1. Flee—Evangeline

“You okay?” Caden asked, concern pouring from his beautiful jade eyes as he gazed down at me, my head nestled in his lap. His index finger lazily traced the contours of my face, his pattern gentle, repetitive. Conflicting waves of calm and excitement rippled through me.

Finally … with Caden. I smiled shyly up at him from my resting place, my body curled across three seats of Viggo’s private jet, welcoming the abrupt turn of events with open arms. Fewer than twelve hours ago, I was consumed by desperation, swarmed by a dark magic, terrified of what my life would become. Only days ago, I was exiled in the most isolated part of the world with little hope that I would see his beautiful smile outside of distant memories ever again. Now I lay, alternating between unconsciousness and splendor, quietly memorizing Caden’s perfect lips and scattered chestnut brown hair, still in shock that he was here, with me, on Earth. And he hadn’t tried to kill me.

I reached up with tentative fingers to touch the patch of gauze on my neck. My body was still weak, recuperating from the loss of blood. Every time I tried to sit upright, purple and black swirls filled my vision and vomit blossomed into my throat. Damn, that psychotic Rachel went down with a fight …

A vertical line formed between Caden’s eyes. “Hey … talk to me.”

“Yeah, I’ll be okay,” I finally whispered, grimacing as a sharp pain speared my left eardrum. “My ears are popping.”

As if in response, the jet’s engine rumbled loudly, signaling a distinct shift in speed and altitude. Caden leaned down to plant a chaste kiss on my cheek. “We’ll be landing soon,” he murmured softly in my good ear, nuzzling his nose against my lobe, sending shivers to the tips of my toes.

I curled my hand around Caden’s broad shoulder as leverage to pull myself up, hoping I could handle the vertical position for more than ten seconds without vomiting or passing out. “Has she told us where we’re going yet?” I slid my feet off the seat to touch the floor next to Max. The werebeast was stretched out on the floor, by my side.

“No, she hasn’t,” Sofie answered for him in her silky French accent, smoothly swooping in to take the now-vacant spot next to me. She stared fixedly at my neck wound, as if she could see through the bandage with x-ray vision. I wouldn’t be surprised if half my neck was missing, recalling the viciousness of Rachel’s bite. Worse, Sofie couldn’t heal me. It had something to do with the Tribe’s magic that coursed through my veins. Toxic magic—poisonous to vampires, counteractive to witch magic. Technically, my body was now a weapon. An impermeable contaminated weapon that couldn’t be healed and could not be turned into an immortal. At least the poison was contained …

Either way, I could tell by the angry glint in Sofie’s eyes that her not being able to fix me was driving her insane. For eighteen years, she had lingered quietly in the shadows—guarding over me, plotting and scheming against any potential threats to my being. My own slightly overbearing maternal vampire sorceress. Arguably, her involvement in my life had caused more harm than good. She didn’t intend for any of it, I knew that. And though she had cursed me, she had tested every limit to protect me since then. I could be angry with her for all of this. I could despise her. But then I wouldn’t have met Caden …

“Are you going to tell us soon?” I pressed, though it didn’t matter where we were going, I thought, as I gave Caden’s hand a tight squeeze. He was with me. For today, for tomorrow, for however long before the impending war and my certain death if I couldn’t rid myself of this magic … I heaved a resigned sigh. It hadn’t sunk in yet …

Sofie’s full red lips pressed together tightly as she stared off, deep in thought, as if she had reconciled herself to a decision but was not pleased with it.

“We do have somewhere safe to go … right?” I asked hesitantly. Now that it was clear the Sentinel and the witches had aligned for the destruction of the vampire species, “somewhere safe” might not exist.

Sofie sighed and nodded reluctantly. “Yes, there is one place that should be fairly safe, though … it’s not the best place to go. It’s not comfortable. I just don’t …”

“Paris!” Viggo cut in, sounding annoyed by Sofie’s waffling. “The outskirts of it.”

I looked to where the two-thousand-year-old vampire sat cross-legged in a row of seats behind me, his suit perfectly pressed, his expression unruffled. A small wooden box rested on his lap, held casually in his manicured grasp. There was nothing casual about it, though. That box held Veronique’s pendant, my noose until not long ago, and the key to her release. Viggo would take this plane and everyone down with him before parting with it again.

Viggo’s unsettling icy blue eyes analyzed me, scrutinized my face. He was likely trying to read my emotions. Vampires could do that. When used on a human, it bordered on mind-reading, made easier when the subject was a human who wears her emotions like an apron—as I tended to do. I fought against the urge to flinch under his gaze. So unfriendly, so cold. Not surprising. He was a psychopath, after all. Less than a day ago, he would gladly have killed me to get what he wanted. In fact, that was his plan. Now, though, for the first time in a long time, he wasn’t trying to kill me. He had basically ignored me since I’d woken up in his jet. I was more than fine with that.

“What’s in Paris?” I forced out the question and self-consciously smoothed out my sweater and jeans, silently thanking Amelie for switching clothes with me earlier. Even cocooned within a navy wool blanket, I was constantly fidgeting, checking to see that I wasn’t exposing myself to Viggo and Mortimer. After an hour of watching me fret, Amelie had all but dragged me back to the jet’s only bedroom to swap clothes, insisting I was a prude. Of course the risqué Tribal outfit didn’t bother her. She could strut unfazed down a catwalk in front of a million gawkers in nothing but a thin layer of mud. And upon her return to the main cabin, she certainly did strut … all the way back to Julian’s side. Other than an occasional furtive glance down at a smattering of my dried blood on the material, Amelie was too busy fawning over him to mind wearing what was hardly more than a chewed-up bikini.

Julian certainly didn’t mind the outfit switch. He didn’t mind anything about Amelie, including the fact that she was a vampire. Julian, my partner-in-exile who hated vampires, was twisted into amorous knots over Amelie. Julian, the secret Sentinel spy who would be skinned alive if anyone on board discovered his dirty little secret, was busy fumbling with Amelie’s springy blond curls and giving her googly eyes. But Julian was in rough shape, still healing from Ursula’s attack. He would be dead if not for the Tribe’s crazy body-burning voodoo magic. Unfortunately for him, that same Tribe magic that saved him from dying now kept Sofie from healing him. He was just like me.