A COUPLE of hours later, we finally left the bar. Even though the strange sensation I’d had earlier had passed, my guard remained up. As Thad had often said, it was better to be safe than sorry. Although most human phrases made little sense to me, that one spoke volumes. Keeping Thad from harm dominated my list of priorities, so I scanned every shadow for a hidden threat.

Right now, though, the only danger was Thad and Pierce. They led the way, their arms draped around each other’s shoulders as they tripped down the sidewalk that would take us to our vehicles, which were parked behind the building. If they made it without falling, I’d be surprised.

“I love you, man,” Pierce said between hiccups. He lightly punched Thad in the chest as they walked, which caused him to stumble sideways. Fortunately Thad steadied himself against the wall before both of them tumbled to the ground.

They evidently found almost busting their heads open hilarious. They broke out into uncontrollable laughter that made them sound like inebriated gnomes.

“Clearly warlocks cannot hold their liquor.”

Kale snorted as he walked steadily by my side. “What was your first clue?”

In the months I’d know him, I’d never seen Thad behave like this. Unless we were naked in bed, he was usually serious and in control. Seeing this side of him made me smile as much as it made me roll my eyes. He was more human than he pretended to be.

“You’ve learned how to drive, right?”

Kale’s question pulled me out of my thoughts and back to the Drunken Duo, who were still in the middle of expressing their undying brotherly love. “Yes, I have.” But I wasn’t really good at it. According to Thad, I drove worse than Mason, who sped everywhere and swerved all over the road. I took offense to the comparison. Mason was reckless; I drove defensively. The other vehicle operators who drove thirty in a forty-five and took five minutes to make a left-hand turn were the problems.

“Good, because we’re the designated drivers tonight.”

I sighed. We definitely were, which likely meant I’d be pouring Thad into bed instead of pouring myself all over him. It wasn’t how I’d planned on spending his first night back in Havenbridge, but it certainly beat falling asleep without him.

“I take it you’ve learned as well?” I asked.

Kale wasn’t from this world either. As a shifter, he’d been born on Aeaea, a magically shrouded island that kept his people separate, and safe, from the rest of the world. He nodded as he fished the keys of Mr. Blackmoor’s Jaguar out of his jeans pocket. “Of course. You can’t—”

Choked sobs suddenly caught our attention. I glanced over at Pierce and Thad, who continued weaving toward the cars while Kale trained his ear on the sound.

“It’s coming from over there,” he said with a nod to the alley between the bar and the building next to it. Kale darted toward the darkened area, and the hairs on the back of my neck stood. What was he doing? After everything we’d been through, running toward an unsecure darkened area wasn’t the brightest move. But I had to remind myself that Kale was a shifter and a man of compassion. He couldn’t ignore someone in distress any more than I could. His animal instincts would alert him to danger, but as he rounded the building and stood in front of the alley, he showed no signs of caution.

My gut tensed. What if his instincts were off? Someone had been watching us earlier.

“Kale, wait.” I took a step toward him before glancing over my shoulder. Thad and Pierce were oblivious, too focused on reaching the vehicles. If I didn’t follow Kale, he’d face whatever was waiting in there alone. If I went after him, I’d potentially be leaving Thad defenseless. He had no clue trouble might be brewing, and it wasn’t like I could tell him or Pierce. In their current state, they would likely overreact and use their magic. While the street was empty and most of the patrons had left the bar hours ago, that didn’t mean a human wasn’t watching from a window somewhere.

I had no choice. Thad was in no immediate danger, but I couldn’t say the same for Kale. I sprinted toward the alley he had entered.

By the time I’d turned the corner, I found him crouching before a man sitting with his back against the outer wall of the bar and weeping. The shadows kept me from seeing his face, but based on what Kale was saying, I had a good idea who it was.

“Listen, I’m sorry I hurt you, okay? What I did was no better than what you said.”

It was Spike, and judging from the number of tears he wasn’t holding back, his pride had taken a beating. Could my senses have been the ones that were off? Although Spike had been a jerk, he was obviously no threat.

“I-it hurts so bad,” Spike said between heaving sobs.

Kale glanced over at me, and even in the dark, his golden avian eyes reflected regret. Personally, I didn’t think Kale had anything to feel sorry about. Spike’s behavior had been reprehensible, and if Kale hadn’t done something about it, I would have. I most assuredly wouldn’t have been as gentle.

“It’ll stop hurting soon, right?” he continued. His sobs grew less frequent, as if he was slowly coming out of it. “At least that’s what the voice says.”

Voice? I stood up straight and scanned the area.

Kale sat on his haunches and stared at Spike. “What voice?”

Spike’s human form melted away. His skin turned gray and withered, his hands grew into talons, his mouth filled with razor-sharp teeth, and his prehensile tongue wrapped around Kale’s neck. Kale scrambled for air as Spike choked the life out of him. I lunged forward, ready to tear Spike in two, when hisses followed by cries of surprise from Thad and Pierce erupted from behind me.

I whirled around as prehensile tongues shot out from the interior of Thad’s car and dragged Pierce and Thad inside. My flesh tingled. I was seconds away from reverting to my vampyren form. It was the only way I could save Thad and my new family. But if I transformed in the open, I ran the risk of exposure.

If I didn’t, my loved ones would die.

“Choose your path carefully,” a voice hissed from the shadows behind me.

I spun around to find a female vampyre emerging from the shadows in the alley, and I was glad Drake and Mason weren’t here. Neither one needed to see Drake’s aunt Millie like this. But as surprised as I was to see her, two things about her appearance perplexed me.

Why hadn’t Kale or I sensed her, and how was she able to communicate? The vampyren we’d come across—with the exceptions of Ben and myself—could barely speak, much less string thoughts together. We’d been led to believe that only magical creatures who’d been turned could control the overpowering vampyren instincts. That obviously wasn’t the case. “What do you want?”

She nodded to the sky. “Come.”

She had to be joking. I was no fool. “And if I don’t?”

Kale yelped in pain as Spike increased the pressure around Kale’s neck.

“I think the answer’s rather obvious, don’t you?”

My skin burned as the desire to tear her neck from her shoulders rose within me, but I had to fight it off. She held all the cards while I held none. If Thad or anyone else was going to make it out of this alive, I had to follow wherever she led and hope that once we got there, I’d be able to bring everyone back.

I stepped into the darkened alley and shifted into my vampyre form, turning into the monster I hated and did my best to suppress. Letting him out was dangerous, especially since he’d proven difficult to control lately, but whether I’d be able to rein him in when I was done was a problem for later. “Lead the way.”

Her withered lips widened into a beaming smile lined with razor-sharp teeth that resembled my own. A second later we took flight, blending with the night sky.