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About the author:
Michelle M. Pillow is a prolific NY Times & USA TODAY bestselling author with over a million books sold. Though she writes in many genres, she is best known for romance and mystery. Her rich world building creates portals for the imagination. She is a winner of the RT Reviewers' Choice Award. Fan favorites include the Qurilixen World (a multi-series collection) and Warlocks MacGregor series. She loves to interact with readers. Visit her at MichellePillow.com.
What inspired you to write your book?
Warlocks MacGregor series is a fan favorite and I've been getting emails about the mysterious half vampire, half human bar owner since he arrived in town many books back. I thought it was time he had his story told. And what better way than to have him falling in love with Maura MacGregor, the new owner of the local motel.
Here is a short sample from the book:
“Curtis Jefferson.” The whispery voice cracked as if dust had settled on the vocal cords.
Self-preservation instantly urged Curtis to run. Logic told him he’d never escape. This was the kind of moment he’d dreaded his entire life.
Curtis slowly lowered the bag of trash he carried to the ground. He placed it beside the dumpster behind Crimson Tavern instead of throwing it over the top. This was one dangerous being he did not want to startle into action.
“You’re a hard man to track down,” Virgile continued.
Curtis doubted that.
He had only heard the vampire’s voice a couple of times, but some living nightmares were impossible to forget. Never had the creature spoken to him directly.
Keeping his hands lifted slightly at his sides, Curtis turned toward the vampire. The soft Southern accent reminded him of his mawmaw’s home in the Mississippi Delta. The reminiscence brought with it a mix of nostalgia and fear. His dhampir grandmother had raised him in his later teen years after the death of her son, Curtis’s father. His mother, a human, had not lived through his birth. Curtis had sucked the life out of her before he even took his first breath. Curtis’s father had never forgiven himself for getting her pregnant, and Curtis’s presence had reminded the man of that sin.
Curtis was a third generation dhampir. A vampire had seduced—a word he used sardonically—a house slave, producing his grandmother from the union. Mawmaw had warned him that his blood made him easy for vampires to track, and he always needed to be on guard. It was a two-way street. His dhampir blood would warn him when vampires were near, but he had to keep focused and alert.
Tonight, he had failed that lesson. If he hadn’t been so preoccupied with food inventory, he would have sensed the vampire skulking in the shadows.
A blur sped past him, triggering one of the alleyway’s security lights. Cold fingers clamped his shoulders from behind. Fingernails pressed through his shirt to dig at his skin.
“Why didn’t you say goodbye to us?” Virgile pouted. “You know it hurts the sire’s feelings when you don’t show respect.”
Virgile enjoyed the drama of being a vampire, like he’d watched too many Hollywood movies and had adjusted his personality accordingly. Curtis had even seen the vampire make claw hands and hiss at someone. If a messy bloodbath hadn’t followed the gesture, it would have been mock-worthy.
Curtis swallowed nervously and closed his eyes. He prayed that this moment would pass with no more than fear-inducing scolding.
Virgile tsked in his ear. “Bad little dhampir. You just snuck away in the middle of the day. Not so much as a goodbye letter.”
Curtis wasn’t sure why that would have been a concern. He’d never been forced to check in with his vampire great grandfather in the past. The creature barely registered that he existed—or so Curtis assumed—and had never shown genuine interest in him before besides the handful of visits to make an accounting of his human bastard family. It always felt more like business inventory than genuine affection. That was the way Curtis preferred it.
“Had to follow the work,” Curtis finally answered. Though his voice was calm, he knew the vampire listened to the rapid beat of his heart and could smell even the tiniest hint of fear.
Virgile spun him around. The security light glinted in the vampire’s eyes. The man wore dark eyeliner, long hair, and black clothing with a row of shiny silver buckles down the front of his shirt. He kept his hard hold on Curtis’s shoulders. “I don’t think it was the work that drew you, garbageman.”
Curtis gestured toward the back door, which still hung open. “Crimson Tavern. It’s a restaurant, a bar and grill. I run it. I’m not hiding.”
Curtis sent money back to his grandmother to help cover her expenses. At over one-hundred-and-fifty years old, she didn’t need to be working. It’s not like great grandpa ever kicked in to help support his daughter, even though the vampire had acquired a fortune off the deaths of his victims. It didn’t matter. Mawmaw would not have wanted his blood money.
“Restaurant? Why don’t you show me?” Virgile hooked his arm around Curtis’s neck. He smiled to show his fangs. “I could eat.”
Curtis didn’t want to invite Virgile in to dine—not because of some antiquated Victorian notion that a vampire needed an invite, which was purely myth, but because bringing Virgile inside would kill his business.
Thankfully, it was twenty minutes until closing time, and most of the guests had left.
“That’s not a good idea,” Curtis said. “This is a small town. People will take notice. Perhaps you should try Green Bay? Or Chicago’s not far.”
Anywhere that isn’t here, he thought.
“People will take notice?” Virgile tilted his head. “Or warlocks?”
Curtis didn’t answer. He couldn’t deny knowledge of the Scottish family that had moved into Green Vallis not long before him. It wasn’t like a bunch of rowdy MacGregors running around in kilts blended into the small-town Wisconsin’s landscape. Curtis had instantly detected they were more than eccentric humans the second they walked into his restaurant. His natural avoidance of supernatural beings had transferred onto the MacGregor family, and he kept his distance.
“What would your mawmaw say if she knew you were franchising with the enemy?”
Fraternizing. Curtis resisted the urge to correct a temperamental vampire.
“I can’t control who lives here,” Curtis answered.
“You control that you live here.” Virgile’s grip tightened.
“Hey, Jennifer, how’ve you been?” Kay’s shout carried from within the restaurant. The woman worked for him and was the only waitress on shift since Jennifer had given her notice. Actually, Jennifer quit because she fell in love with a MacGregor, Rory. If Jennifer was here, then that meant the MacGregors were probably with her.
Panic knotted his insides. His business had just started to turn a profit. Virgile’s presence would ruin everything.
The MacGregors knew Curtis wasn’t entirely human. They’d sensed it almost immediately. Though, he had lied to the warlocks when he told them he didn’t know which vampire sired his line. That connection was the family secret.
Or, more precisely, that connection was the family shame. Who would want to admit to an immortal war criminal in the family genetics? They avoided talk of it whenever possible. It’s not like Ole Grandpappy Buford came to the reunions. Of course, those reunions were always in the middle of a Mississippi August day when the sun was hot and bright, but that was beside the point.
Virgile stared at him. The intensity of his gaze was caught somewhere between curiosity and intimidation. Or maybe it was confusion. Immortality didn’t automatically come with a higher IQ. Virgile was a lackey, plain and simple.
Curtis tried to think of something to say, but there was no telling what would set Virgile off. For a moment, the vampire’s grip on him loosened, and he thought Virgile was going to let him go.
Suddenly, his entire body jerked violently, and the back alley blurred. Curtis tried to hold his breath as the vampire sped him between buildings and into the nearby forest. When they stopped, moonlight barely invaded the thick canopy overhead, but it was enough to see the bat-like features fading from Virgile’s face as he shifted back to his human form.
Virgile paced in the darkness, blending into the thick shadows. “Did you really think warlocks could protect you?”
The only thing worse than Virgile’s anger was his boredom. Not that it mattered, both were deadly.
“You never learn, do you? You just keep coming back to this moment. To her.”
Curtis frowned. “Her?”
“The sire wants to see you. He’s tired of the game,” Virgile stated. “I’d say to pack a bag, but I don’t think you’ll need clothes where you’re going.”
“What her? What game?” Curtis insisted. “I swear I don’t know what you’re talking about. I came here because the tavern was for sale, cheap, and I always wanted my own restaurant. Are you sure he’s looking for me? Maybe you’re thinking of someone else.”
Curtis had always sworn to himself that if a moment like this came, he would never give them the satisfaction of begging. Maybe that lie had provided comfort at the time but being faced with the reality was another story. Fear took over. Vampires had imaginative ways of killing people. He slowly inched back, wondering how deep into the woods they’d traveled.
If he ran, would he find help?
Then again, who would help him?
“You bore me, you sack of rotted blood.”
Virgile studied him. “You would be lighter to carry without legs.”
“You know he won’t be happy if you bring him the wrong man.” It was a weak argument, and they both knew it. He took another step back and tripped, landing hard on his backside.
“You really don’t know a thing, do you?” Virgile laughed, looming over him.
“Why are you doing this? I haven’t done any—”
“But you have.” Virgile threaded his hands behind his back and leaned down. Tension radiated from his stiff body.
“I was never given an order to stay in Mississippi.” Curtis felt around on the ground, trying to crawl back to safety. His hand moved through the forest litter of dead leaves.
“You were not given permission to leave.”
“My phone number remained the same. I’m reachable.”
Virgile appeared surprised by the defense, which only served to piss the vampire off more. “If it were up to me, I’d have killed your mawmaw the day she was born and been rid of the lot of you half breed—”
Curtis’s hand hit a piece of rotted wood, and he reacted on instinct, thrusting the branch up for protection just as Virgile lunged forward with extended hands. The branch lodged between them. It stabbed Curtis in the stomach. His body tensed, and he cried out in pain.
Virgile’s expression widened in surprise, and he stumbled back, taking the branch with him. Curtis rolled on the ground and pushed to his feet, intent on running away.
Virgile screamed. Curtis swayed, grabbing his bleeding stomach.
The branch protruded from the vampire’s chest. Soot coated his features as he burned from within. Curtis had seen vampire death as a child, and the creatures never went peacefully. His mawmaw said it was all the pain they’d caused in life being revisited upon them tenfold. If that were true, Virgile would be in agony.
The vampire’s screams turned into high-pitched screeches. Curtis covered his ears as the reverberation in his head became worse than the pain in his bleeding stomach.
The death fire broke through tiny cracks in Virgile’s skin. He reached forward as if to grab onto Curtis, hands clutching into fists. His knee lifted, but the calf did not go with it as the limb split into two. The now-legless vampire plummeted to the ground and exploded into a blaze of ash and fire until all that remained was the charred leg standing in the remains of a cowboy boot.
The canopy of treetops caught fire. Flames instantly ate through branches. The loud crack of breaking limbs echoed before they rained down on the dry bed of dead leaves below. One hit close to the leg causing it to crumble and disappear.
Curtis pressed his hand into his wound, willing the bleeding to stop. Each step sent a jolt of excruciating awareness through him, and he grunted in pain as he ambled toward safety. With his free hand, he braced against tree trunks and branches to stay upright. With every slow step of progress, he knew the flames were closer to catching up to him.