Release Date: September 12, 2017
When Maddy and Aegis go on vacation, a blast from the past threatens to destroy them both.
Maddy and Aegis need to relax after opening the Bewitching Bedlam B&B, so they go on a post-New Year’s trip up to a mountain chalet. But what neither realizes, is that a dark cloud from the past is shadowing them both, and a resulting avalanche holds them hostage, at the mercy of a menace from Maddy’s past, who is ready to destroy Mad Mauldin and all she holds dear.
Note: The book is available separately, and can also be found in Bedlam Calling Anthology.
It seemed like a good idea in theory. Just Aegis, Bubba, and me, tucked away in an alpine chalet high in the Cascades, along with the rest of his band. We were enjoying the post New Year winter and winding down from a very busy holiday season, which included a murder case which had me as the main target, and the opening of the Bewitching Bedlam B&B. We needed the break, given all the mayhem we had been through. So here we were, at the bottom of a very snowy mountain, curled in front of the gas fireplace in our room.READ MORE
The Boys of Bedlam, Aegis’s band, were scheduled to play three nights out of the four we were here, but only for an hour each time. Thanks to the gig, our rooms were comped and so was the food. Of course, come sunrise Aegis had to hide out in the spare coffin down in the basement so all my snow-covered walks during the day were spent with the band members. So the trip wasn’t quite as romantic as I could hope for, but sunshine had a way of playing havoc with vampires. As in burn to a crisp kind of havoc.
Bubba stretched out on the bed, arching his back to show the long swell of fur on his belly. The cjinn had insisted on coming along when he found out we were going to be gone for a long weekend, and given Bubba’s nature—he was all cat, part djinn—I didn’t feel like arguing with him. Bubba had been with me for over three hundred years. We had come to rely on one another, and even though we didn’t speak the same language, we understood each other perfectly. Bubba was as much a part of my life as Sandy was, and as much as the little bugger could be a butthead, he was also a blessing.
“We’re all here except Franny,” Aegis said. “I have to say, it’s kind of nice to have a vacation from her.”
I laughed, then immediately felt guilty. “She can’t help her complaining. She’s a very unhappy ghost. She didn’t ask to be trapped in the house and I still haven’t figured out how to help free her.” I leaned back, closing my eyes as my head sank into the pillow. I had changed into a loose flannel nightgown and was wearing fuzzy slippers. This weekend was all about comfort.
“You look delicious,” Aegis said, and I opened my eyes to find him straddling my lap, his knees on either side of my hips. His eyes flashed, and the tips of his fangs showed from below the curve of his smile. “I could eat you up,” he whispered, leaning down to kiss me.
His lips were cold against mine, but they set me off in ways that had become so very welcome over the past couple of months. He gently nipped my bottom lip as he brought his hands up to cup my breasts. As he fingered my nipples through the soft knit of my sweater, I caught my breath, shifting beneath his weight. I wanted nothing more than to strip him naked and slide on top of him, to ride him hard and fast. Yee haw, I thought. The wild witch of the west ropes herself a cowvamp...except my ‘cowboy’ was a rock star, and I might own a few blades, but nowhere in my closet did I have a pair of spurs.
We were about to move things to the bed, which of course meant chasing Bubba off, when a knock at the door interrupted our sex play. With a grunt, Aegis pushed himself off my lap and, giving me a playful wag of the finger, headed toward the door.
“Keep my place warm,” he teased me. “I’m done with the gig tonight so I’m all yours, all night long.”
As he crossed the room, I licked my lips. Aegis was delicious, all right. He was tall and muscular, and his jet hair fell to his shoulder blades. His eyes were coffee brown—rich Kona coffee, so deep they might as well be quicksand. Ringed with crimson, they reflected his moods unerringly. He was wearing a pair of black jeans, but had ditched his shirt and shoes. The only other thing he was wearing was the square gold ring with a sun in the center, and a carnelian cabochon in the center of that.
Aegis peeked through the peephole.
“It’s the bellhop,” he said, cracking the door. “Yes?”
“Message from the front desk for you, Sir.”
The bellhop handed him an envelope and Aegis fumbled in his pocket for a tip. “Maddy, do you have any change?”
Sighing—I didn’t want to get up from the comfy cushion of my seat—I opened my purse and handed him three dollars. I wasn’t sure what the going rate for tipping a messenger was, but given he was a bellhop, that should be okay.
The bellhop stared at my chest as I handed him the money, stammering out Thank you before stumbling back out the door.
Aegis laughed as he closed the door. “Leave it to your boobs,” he said, ripping open the letter. “Even behind that flannel nightgown, they’re monumental.” As he scanned the paper, his expression grew somber.
“What is it?”
He shook his head, turning on the overhead light. “I don’t know, not for sure.” He handed me the note. “What do you make out of this?”
I glanced at the handwriting. It wasn’t familiar. The letter read, “I need to talk to you privately. Can you meet me behind the gift shop?”
“Who sent you this? Do you recognize the writing?” It seemed troublesome—but then again, it could be some groupie from the dinner show, looking to get some action.
“No, I don’t. I have no idea who sent it.” Aegis shook his head. “And why meet whoever it is all the way over at the gift shop? That’s not even in the hotel. Why not just come to our room?”
“Are you going to find out, or are you going to just ignore it?” Just ignoring it seemed like a good idea to me.
“I think...I better find out what this is about.” He shrugged on a hoodie and zipped it up in lieu of a shirt. “I’ll be back in a few.” With a grin, he added, “Don’t start without me. Or if you do, don’t finish without me.”
As he exited the door, I turned off the lights again and crossed to the window, staring out at the mountain looming above us. The jagged peaks made me catch my breath every time I looked at the view. The Cascades were rugged, volcanic in origin. They had thrust up from between tectonic plates, and they were young and still hormonal. Mount Rainier—we called her the Mountain around here—was among the youngest volcanoes in the range, clocking in at about 500,000 years old. Which—in geologic time—made her a spring chicken.
The Astra Alpine Chalet was up on Snoqualmie Pass, a private resort near the summit. We were well off the freeway, along the Erste Strasse Road. The hotel catered to the Pretcom—the preternatural community. While there were several ski resorts in the area, the Astra Alpine Chalet was for those who wanted less action on the slopes, and more ambiance.
The hotel was romantic to a fault. The rooms were all large, with gas fireplaces, jetted tubs, and kitchen nooks which included mini-fridges, a microwave, coffee maker, and a cafe-style table and chairs. The bathrooms had spa tubs, walk in showers with benches, and vanity mirrors over a double sink. It was pricey but worth it.
I wondered how long it would take Aegis to find whoever was looking for him.
At first I thought, maybe it was a practical joke from one of the band members. The note had been odd, but then the boys in the band were odd and I wouldn’t put it past them to pull some sort of joke.
A motley crew, the Boys of Bedlam ran to the genres of sexy darkwave and goth folk. Recently they had actually caught the notice of an indie producer and were scheduled to make another demo when we got back to Bedlam. I joked about being Aegis’s groupie, but truth was, the band was good and their music was catching on. Aegis had both the voice and the eye candy to draw in the crowds.
“M-row?” Bubba leaped down to the floor, wrapping himself around my legs.
“I don’t know, Bubba. Aegis should be back soon.” But an odd fluttering in my stomach told me that a practical joke wasn’t behind the mysterious note. I tried to push it away. I was actually tired of paying attention to all the hunches that had haunted me lately. I just wanted to relax, have sex, eat calorie laden goodies, and forget about the stress of the past month.
Bubba let out a purp. “Mrow?”
I bent down and ruffled his fur. “Hungry, then? All right, come on, let’s get your supper.” I stopped at the counter with the coffee maker on it and opened one of the cans of food we had brought with us—Mixed Savory Beef—and spooned it onto a paper plate, then set the plate on the floor next to Bubba’s water dish. He rushed over, ignoring me as he fell to his dinner.
Cjinns were odd sorts. While he was fully aware and as intelligent as Aegis or I was—probably more, in fact—the cat instinct took over whenever it was dinner time or time to be petted or play time. He showed no sign of aging, and the research I had done on cjinns suggested that Bubba would probably outlive me, if nothing untoward happened.
I foraged in the mini-fridge and found a leftover piece of pie. Standing over the sink, I ate it straight from the package, then tossed the plastic container in the recycling container. I glanced at the clock again. Aegis had been gone for half an hour now, and I was starting to worry. He should either be back or have texted me by now. I pulled out my phone.
Where are you? Is everything okay?
I waited for a moment, then texted, Aegis? Are you there?
Another moment and I slid into my jeans and buttoned them up. I reluctantly slipped my bra back on, then pulled a long-sleeve V-neck sweater over my head. I gathered my hair into a ponytail and turned to Bubba.
“I’ll be back in a little bit, Bub. I need to find out what’s taking Aegis so long.”
Bubba rubbed against my legs, then plaintively said, “M-row?”
“I promise, I’ll be careful.”
Pocketing the hotel key card and my wallet, I headed out the door, taking care to lock it behind me. Aegis hadn’t taken his key, but I didn’t expect to be gone long. I headed down the hall, then decided to grab one of the guys in the band to go with me.
It was near midnight, and I figured that most of the band would either be in the bar, or stretched out watching TV in their rooms. Sid hadn’t brought his wife, given they had a new baby, and the other boys were sans girlfriends at the moment.
At the door of room 323—Keth’s room—I knocked. I waited for a moment, then knocked again. No answer. Jorge and Sid were sharing a room next to Keth—the hotel had only been able to comp three rooms for the band. I knocked on the door of 325 and again, no answer.
“Well, hell.” I pulled out my phone to check if Aegis had read my message. We both kept the ‘read receipts’ setting on. He hadn’t, which meant he was somewhere where reception was spotty. I decided to try the bar.
Taking the stairs, I headed for the lobby, where I crossed the carpeted hall to the bar. As I peeked inside, I saw the boys there—Keth, Sid, and Jorge.
“Hey guys,” I waved as I approached the table. “You see Aegis around?”
Sid shook his head. “Not since the gig. Why?”
I let out a sigh. “Listen, did any of you send him that note?”
Keth looked confused. “Note? What note?”
“The one asking him to meet you behind the gift shop. He left about forty-five minutes ago to find out who wanted to see him and he hasn’t been back or answered my texts. Something feels off, so I came looking. I thought maybe he ran into you and got distracted.” I was beginning to get worried.
“We didn’t send him any note, Maddy,” Sid said. “Have you asked the front desk who left the message?”
“Good idea. While I’m talking to them, will you guys try texting him?”
As I headed over to the main desk, the boys followed me, texting away. I rang the bell on the counter. The owner, Marinda, who was one of the Winter Fae Court, answered.
“Somebody gave you a message for Aegis. We’re in room 315. Do you remember who might have sent it?” I leaned against the counter.
Marinda cocked her head to the right, squinting as she thought. “We usually keep track of messages. Nothing came through the desk, Ms. Gallowglass. Do you remember who brought it to your room?”
“A bellhop—short, slight of build. I think he might have been Fae. He was blond, about five-five, no beard or facial hair.” I had a good memory, but I hadn’t paid that much attention to him. “He was wearing one of the hotel uniforms.”
“One moment.” She tapped away on a cell phone and then turned back to me. “That sounds like Anthony. I’ve asked him to come down to the desk. He might be able to tell you more. Is something wrong?”
“Maybe,” I said. “Has Aegis checked in at the desk in the past hour?”
Marinda shook his head. “No, I’m sorry. Not that I’ve noticed.”
The elevator opened and the bellhop who had brought the message stepped off.
“That’s him,” I said.
“Edwin, please come over here.” Marinda nodded to me. “Go ahead.”
‘You delivered a message to our room not quite an hour ago. Do you remember where you got it? You said it was from the front desk.” I glanced at my phone again. Aegis still hadn’t read my message.
Edwin looked bewildered for a moment. “I did pick it up here at the desk. The note was in the slot for your room.” He glanced at the owner. “You were away from the desk, Marinda. I saw it there, so thought I should take it right up.”
She nodded. “I was away for about fifteen minutes. Since it was so late, I figured we wouldn’t be getting any visitors in. I had the phone set to forward any calls to me from the front desk. Someone must left the note while I was gone.”
“Then whoever it was knew what room we were in, if it was in the proper slot. Damn, I wish I had that note right now. I could do a Divining Spell and see what I could find out about it.” I turned to Edwin. “So you didn’t see who left it, either?”
The bellhop shook his head. “I’m sorry, Ma’am. I didn’t. I just saw the note peeking out of the slot and delivered it. Did I do something wrong?”
“No, don’t worry about it,” Marinda said. “You did exactly what you’re trained to do. But I’m concerned that some stranger came behind the desk to leave a note without permission.” She glanced at me. “I’m sorry, Ms. Gallowglass. I don’t know what to tell you.”
I pressed my lips together. It wasn’t really her fault. And quite frankly, we didn’t know that anything was wrong yet. But my unease was growing stronger. It had been over an hour now, and Aegis was nowhere in sight.
“We’ll go with you to check out back of the gift shop, Maddy.” Jorge was frowning. “It’s not like him to ignore his phone.”
“I didn’t have my jacket on, but I didn’t care. “Sounds good. Let’s go.”
While vampires were immune to most attacks and they could hold their own against most creatures, there were potential dangers that could dust a vamp quicker than a vacuum could suck up the ashes. Sunlight, being caught in a fire, accidentally falling on a pitchfork or fireplace poker—given it stabbed through the heart—all could take a vampire from the most powerful force in the room to a pile of dust. Freak accidents happened all the time.
The gift shop was on the opposite side of the lobby. It was closed, but it also had an outside entrance and so we headed out of the hotel and around to the side. I closed my eyes as the chill night wind gusted past, sweeping away my breath. Keth noticed I was shivering and he pulled off his own jacket and wrapped it around me. I gave him a grateful smile as we moved around to the back of the gift shop.
Once there, we swept the area with our phone flashlights. Nothing. It would have been impossible to tell if he had been killed—any dust or ash would have been swept away by the wind. There were no signs that we could see of anybody else. The snow to the back of the shop was scuffed up, but that could have been caused by just about anybody walking past, or even an animal.
“Well, crap. He’s not here.” I shivered, even with Keth’s jacket.
“Tell you what. Why don’t you go check the gym? Aegis likes to work out. Meanwhile, we’ll have a look around the rest of the hotel.
“I guess. All right.” I shook my head. “I’m really beginning to worry.” I tried dialing his number but the phone sent me to his voice mail. “Hell. Let’s get a move on.”
We went back inside, and I gave Keth back his jacket. As the boys veered off to check the pool and other areas, I headed to the gym.
The room had two weight machines, three treadmills, two stationary bikes, a rowing machine, and several mats. It was small, but workable. I glanced around. No sign of Aegis. In fact, by the layer of dust on several of the machines, it looked like the guests at the Astra Alpine Chalet didn’t come here to get fit.
I was about to head back to the lobby when my phone pinged. I grabbed it out. It was Aegis—texting me back. Maddy, hurry, I’m at the room. Help.COLLAPSE