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After Sunrise is LIVE! Read Chapter One Below.

Immerse yourself in the final book of the Nightfall vampire romance series. You can read the first half of chapter one below and order your copy of After Sunrise wherever you buy your books.



CHAPTER ONE: Aspen


The first thing I notice is the rotten stench of death tickling my nose. My eyes creep open, and I shake my head gently, as though moving will help get rid of the putrid odor. It isn’t just in the atmosphere, though. It’s on me—all over my clothes, coating my skin.


I might be far from Ichorye, but the scent of battle followed.


Battered, bruised, and bloody, all I can do is listen as the sky rains down on the tarp above me, as if it, too, is crying over the events of today… yesterday?


I have no way of knowing how much time has passed since Adrian abducted me. After he made sure we weren’t followed, he stopped a few miles outside of town, where it became clear we were waiting for someone. When nobody showed, he knocked me unconscious.


Ropes covered in ash bind my wrists and ankles, and I roll my shoulders a few times to get the feeling back into them. Scanning the enclosed space, I spot the source of the smell—a pile of discarded squirrel carcasses sits by the entrance, indicating that not only were there quite a few vampires living here, but that they were here for a while.


To my left, a stack of folded blankets leans haphazardly, next to what looks to be rumpled sleeping bags. Four pieces of plywood prop up the large tarp overhead, acting as a makeshift tent that the rain splatters on so loudly that I can’t hear anything beyond it.


I take several slow, soothing breaths, trying to keep my pulse steady so Adrian doesn’t know I’m awake. I don’t see him, but I doubt he went far.


Shifting quietly, I attempt to work my hands out of the restraints, and when that doesn’t work, I try blunt force, the rope cutting deep grooves into my wrists.


Freaking Vanesa.


Manipulative, psychotic, neurotic son of a—


Hushed whispers disrupt my thoughts, and I sit up slowly, straining to hear bits of the conversation over the rain.


Gritting my teeth, I dig my heels into the dirt and scoot closer to the flap that poses as an entrance. Something is said about “the others” and “northeast,” but the voices are nearly unintelligible.


I close my eyes and concentrate, forcing myself to block out the noises around me and focus on their voices. Only their voices. One sounds feminine, but it’s hard to be sure.


“Keep me updated,” Adrian says, suddenly right outside the tarp. I release the ropes I’ve been fiddling with and scramble backward before he steps inside, fuming despite his characteristically stoic personality.


Looking down as he enters, Adrian takes in my new position and squats down in front of me to tighten my ropes—not that I’d made any progress untying them. Without a word, Adrian steps aside and eases onto a tree stump, picking up one of several branches and pulling out a pocketknife. He begins sharpening it into a point, and once he’s finished, he lets the makeshift weapon fall to the dirt and gets to work on another.


He’s worried.


A strange smugness spreads through my chest. He knows taking me from the Dravens, no matter what deal Vanesa made, is going to come back to haunt him eventually.


“Is this where you’ve been staying?” I ask, nodding in the direction of the dead squirrels.


Adrian doesn’t respond. Just like he didn’t respond to any of the questions I asked him before he knocked me out. I have nothing to blackmail him with and no idea what he wants with me, so I’m hoping that my pestering will eventually annoy him to the point of revealing something. Otherwise, I’m stuck here with no way to leverage myself home.


Movement stirs on the other side of the tarp, and his eyes lift at the sound of a gruff voice—definitely not the woman from before. “Boss, I’ve got something.”


My heart skips as Adrian passes through the tent.


Maybe it’s Miles. One of the siblings. But my hopes are squashed when Adrian speaks.


“Where have you been? What happened to the others?” He seethes, and the person’s rapid heartbeat noticeably calms at the sound of his voice, never mind his blatant irritation.


I maneuver to my knees and inch toward the opening once more, peering through the flaps that provide a glimpse into the wooded area around the tarp. I consider attempting to grab one of the stakes Adrian whittled, but I have nowhere to hide it. Even if I managed to cut my ropes and run, I doubt I’d get far. If I had the slightest clue as to where I was, maybe, but I don’t even know which direction Ichorye is, much less how far away. The only power I can obtain at the moment is knowledge.


“It’s just us,” Rachel says, breathing raggedly. She stumbles a bit, grabbing on to Adrian’s forearm for balance. Three vampires accompany her, one of whom sways on his feet, then collapses onto the soggy ground. The other two eye him with little concern, and no one makes a move to assist him.


Adrian takes Rachel in with his hard gaze. “How is that possible?”


She shakes her head, coughing violently. She’s drenched, there’s blood on her shirt, bruises on her face, and it looks as though her nose ring has been torn out. She wasn’t nearly this beat up when I saw her last, and I can’t tell if she’s winded from a fight, her travels, or if she’s on the verge of tears.


“They’re all dead,” she chokes, lower lip quivering. “The Dravens were furious after you grabbed Destin—Aspen. Then someone—I-I don’t know who—tried to attack Dev—Dallas.” She closes her eyes. “A fight broke out, and when it was obvious we weren’t going to make it out of there alive, the four of us ran to the rendezvous point, but you were long gone. We waited to come here until we were sure we weren’t followed. Th-they have Tommy, though. A bullet in the head wouldn’t have killed him. He could talk. He could tell them where we are.”


Hope flutters in my chest at the possibility.


“You think he’ll break?” Adrian asks without batting an eye. He doesn’t care about Rachel’s vampires. I’m sure he has thousands of his own where they came from.


She shudders, wrapping her arms around her middle as goose bumps rise on her arms. “He hardly speaks, so I don’t think so. He’s a strong kid, but the Dravens… they’re animals.” A tear falls down her cheek and she wipes it away angrily. “I’m sorry I failed you.”


“You did what you must. That’s all that matters, child. We can’t let them find us before—” his eyes flick to me, and I jerk out of sight, silently cursing myself for getting caught eavesdropping. Instead of finishing his thought, he changes the subject. “Gather up the supplies. If the Dravens do break Tommy, we’ll fare much better on my territory than in the middle of nowhere with three wounded men and a prisoner.”


Rachel nods somberly, then moves toward the tent. Despite Adrian’s assurance that she did what she must, she doesn’t look convinced.


I hold on to that possibility, hoping that somewhere deep inside, there are still a few pieces of the old Rachel left after all. The bond between a maker and its vampire spawn is strong, and losing so many of her newborns, especially when she only wanted to provide them a better life, must be devastating.


As heartless as it may be, maybe I can use that to my advantage.


Her eyes light up when she sees me, and she rushes to my side, wrapping her arms around my shoulders.


“I’m really glad you’re here,” she whispers, voice constricted with emotion. Pulling away, she strokes my cheeks, wiping off the dirt and blood, and damn if she doesn’t look genuinely happy to see me.

Sudden anger bubbles in my chest. I’ve been taken away from the only family I have, and it doesn’t seem to faze her in the slightest. She’s just excited to be reunited.


“I’m a prisoner, Rachel.” I try to keep my voice calm. “I was just taken from the people I love, and now I’m tied up by ropes that are slicing into my skin. This—” I gesture with my bound hands, “—isn’t a family reunion.”


“I know it seems bleak now, but I promise you, Adrian is wonderful. He won’t hurt you. He just has to make sure you don’t run away. And you and me—we can be together again like old times.” Rachel’s hopeful voice is like a knife twisting in my gut.


Either Adrian has her completely brainwashed, or she doesn’t understand the gravity of this situation.


“Do you think we’re going to hold hands and make friendship bracelets when this is finished? I’m being held against my will, Rachel,” I snap, then blink rapidly, taking a breath. As much as I don’t want to hurt her, she needs to get it through her head that this isn’t an impromptu getaway.


“No, but…” Her words fall short, and she lowers her eyes.


“Rachie,” I start, reaching for her hands as I use the nickname I gave her as a child. She recoils with a hiss when I touch her, and I realize some of the ash has fallen onto my fingers.


Rachel leans to the side and reaches for one of the blankets, slightly damp from the rain blowing under the tarp. She pulls it into her lap and uses a corner to wipe the particles off my hands the best she can. When they’re clean enough that my fingers tingle with feeling, I touch her again. “Please. You can’t let him keep me here. My brother needs me, and my mom isn’t well. He can’t take care of her while he’s worrying himself to death over me.”


“Your mom is sick?” Rachel asks, eyes wide with concern.


Pursing my lips, I nod, debating how much to tell her. I can’t explain how Ambrose affected us without her connecting it to what happened with Derek. She can never know it might have been his influence that released my brother’s monster. It’s bad enough she’s on Adrian’s side—I don’t need her sympathizing with him, too.


It’s hard to believe this is the same woman who helped raise me. There was a time when I could read her like a book. She was sweet, honest, and cared too much for her own good. But the girl in front of me, she’s a complete stranger… and it’s my own fault.


Not you. A voice whispers from somewhere deep in my subconscious. Derek. She changed because of what Derek did.


All the more reason not to give her a reason to sympathize with him.


In the end, I settle on a part of the truth I can give her. “What Derek did took a toll on her. Honestly, I’m not sure either of my parents will ever be the same.”


“That’s awful. I wish I could have seen them before we left,” Rachel says sadly, and my patience thins.


She says “left” as though we both had a say.


“Anyway, you know Dallas won’t be alone,” she says pointedly. “I’m sure your boyfriend will help him.”


She enunciates the word boyfriend as though it’s a dirty word. As though Miles is a disgusting person. I have no idea what lies Adrian has been feeding her, but they’ve clearly left quite an impression.


“I can assure you; the only thing Miles is doing is plotting Adrian’s demise.” I close my eyes, digging deep for restraint. “Does he honestly think they won’t scour the ends of the Earth looking for me?”


“I don’t know what Adrian thinks. All I know is he needs you to end the Twelve. And if you know what’s good for you, you’ll let him protect you from them. All of them.”


“We’re ending the Twelve with the war,” I say, choosing to ignore her dig. “Why does he need me before we’re ready to fight?”


Adrian mentioned that he needed my “profound perception,” but I don’t believe that for a second. He has ruled for centuries without me, and I worry that his desire for my assistance goes deeper than the war.


As much as I despise Vanesa, she’s right about one thing: I’m his weakness. Except, the only way to use that to my advantage would mean crossing the one line I never would.


Rachel gulps, floundering for an explanation. “He just, uhm, he needs you to be extra prepared, and the others are a cause for distraction… so…”


“Rachel—”


“Look, he doesn’t tell me anything, okay? I just know what I overhear. So, stop prying.” She looks down at our hands. “There’s something else I’ve been meaning to talk to you about.”


My stomach churns, doing a strange flip. I’m not fond of the apprehensive look in her eyes. “What is it?”


“I found him.”


“Rachel,” Adrian barks, storming back into the tent, grabbing her by the elbow. “Where’s the weapons bag? Dominic said he left it with you.”


“He did, but I left it—” Rachel pauses with a look of panic at the sinking realization that she screwed up “—at Draven Manor,” she finishes, shifting her weight. “We couldn’t carry it into the fight, and at the time, I had thought we’d go back to regroup before returning to you.”


Adrian grunts his frustration, sighing heavily. “So, you thought it better for us to travel through a foreign territory without any means of defending ourselves?”


Rachel’s shoulders hunch, her eyes filling. “I forgot. I’m sorry.”


A muscle in his jaw twitches, and he turns away from her teary eyes. “We’ll just have to make do with nature. Collect more wood suitable for stakes, then pack up the tarp. The others can handle the supplies.”


She nods eagerly, hurrying after him while bending to grab whatever twigs she can find in the process.

Alone, any semblance of calm I forced upon myself earlier is replaced with panic.


I found him.


She found my brother.


I breathe shallowly, shivering and trying to ignore my mounting dread.


I’m a vampire now. I have excess strength, speed, eyesight, and agility. I’ve been through worse than Derek ten times over, and yet, the mere thought of seeing him again strikes deep in my core.


Now, the only thing I’m going to spend every day agonizing over is whether she fulfilled her promise to kill him, or if she succumbed to his magnetism.


If it’s the latter… well, that’s one nightmare I won’t escape from when I wake up.

_

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