OF THE BLOOD has been SHORTLISTED for the Kindle Storyteller Award!
Out of thousands of entries, it was one-of-five selected by readers. This was something I was not expecting. But I am humbled and thrilled and so very grateful for the amazing support!
Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! From the bottom of my heart!
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   Raised in a war-ravaged continent, temptation comes to Calla Caldwell in the form of a charming and mysterious stranger. Giving in to his intimate seduction, her world is forever changed by a single bite.

   Calla quickly learns the handsome stranger is vampire prince, Trystan Vladu. His bite was an attempt to claim and save her from a plot of vengeance generations in the making. However, the claws of that ancient vendetta are scraping ever closer.

   Thrust into a new nightmare by the Prince of the corrupt kingdom of Morbeth, Calla is captured, tortured, and starved in the dank confines of his dungeon. While in captivity, she takes part in a séance with a witch of light where she contacts a departed relative—a Princess of Incendia—who bequeaths a gift to Calla that will tip the scales of good and evil . . . if she can learn to harness it.

   With a dark tapestry of secrets, lies, and murder unraveling around her, Calla must learn to embrace the power roiling through her veins, or be snuffed out by the strangling fist of a malevolent darkness.

Praise for Of the Blood

"Swoon-worthy and action packed, Of the Blood is a wonderful start to a dark and dangerous new series." - #1 NY Times Bestselling Author, Jennifer L. Armentrout

Fast paced and fantastical! This magical and blood thirsty tale of a seemingly ordinary girl with a destiny greater than she could have imagined will have you turning the pages long after the bathwater has gone cold. 5 stars!” Tara Brown International Bestselling Author

"A vibrant quest twisting deeper with each turned page, Cameo Renae has weaved a romantic story full of heart and rich characters!" Kelly St. Clare, USA Today Bestseller

"This is a beautifully written tale set against a rich tapestry of mystery and intrigue where battles are fought and won not only with the sword but the heart and mind. Excellent world-building, intriguing characters, smoldering romance, and a solid plot all make this one of my favorite books of the year." Rue Volley, USA Today Bestselling author of 13 Ways to Midnight  

Magic, villains, romance, adventure - this book has it all! I can't wait to see where Calla's journey takes her next. - Karen Lynch, NYT Bestselling author

"Magic, mystery, and mayhem make up this marvelously twisting tale. Renae shines a fresh light on some old favorites. Vampires, witches, and even merfolk take on new life as their intriguing story unfolds in this unique dark fantasy." #1 Bestselling Author of the Witches of Blackbrook Series, Tish Thawer

"A bold new fantasy romance steeped with thrilling adventure and lush lore." - Casey L. Bond, author of When Wishes Bleed

"A dark, tantalizing fantasy with unforgettable characters and captivating plot, Cameo will have you on the edge of your seat and enthralled from start to finish." - Mary Ting, International bestselling, award-winning author

Welcome to Talbrinth

FIRST CHAPTER

Copyright © 2020 Cameo Renae

Chapter 1

 

   I pleaded for death. Prayed it would come swiftly and end the agonizing pain consuming my body. Yet, at the corners of my dimmed eyes, a shadowed figure remained at my bedside, whispering lies of promise that this suffering would soon end. But the misery was ever powerful, destroying all illusions of hope, enfolding me in a cocoon of flame and darkness.

   Was this how my life would end? Was I going to die on my eighteenth birthday?

 

Six hours earlier…

   “Finished,” Brynna informed. “Gods, I’m good.” Long lashes flickered over baby-blue eyes as she regarded her work. “You have to let me make you up more often.”

   With an internal sigh, I drew in a heavy breath. “No thanks. My skin prefers to breathe.”

   “I’ll wager you twenty gold skrag you’ll have looks from all the guys tonight.” The glint in her eyes and widening smile caused me to smirk.

  “Not interested. You can keep your skrag and your guys.”

   I had to remember that Brynna was doing this for me, for my eighteenth birthday, although I’d only desired the company of my best friend and a peaceful, simple dinner. But Brynna was far from simple. She was taking full advantage of the fact our parents were overseas for the next few weeks, sailing to the country of Hale to trade and barter mined reserves at Merchant Port.

   “Whatever,” she said, snickering. “But that’s why you have me. My objective in life is to snap you out of your shell, Calla Caldwell.” She straightened her back and crossed her arms over her chest. “I’m serious. Look at yourself. Go on.” Her hand signaled toward the mirror, urging me to look. “There will be boys here tonight. Very handsome and suitable boys.” She thrust her palm up an inch from smacking my nose. “And before you protest, just remember you’re eighteen now, and the only guy you’ve ever had any interest in might as well be a figure in one of your romance novels. A fabrication of your imagination.”

   “He is not,” I mumbled.

   “Are you kidding me?” I was afraid she’d lose her eyes as they rolled clear to the back of her head. “Your crush is nine years older than you and in the military. Your dad hired him to educate you in self-defense when you were ten. It’s been years since you’ve seen him. Not to mention, the obsession was one-sided.” She let out a pathetic sigh. “It’s time to wake up and slip your toes into new pools, Cal.”

I bit my tongue. I wasn’t going to bicker with her. For one, she was correct. As usual. Yes, I’d had a childhood infatuation with my self-defense mentor. And yes, I continued to use him as an excuse to evade any committed relationship, because the truth was . . . I didn’t want one. I’d witnessed the amount of effort that went into relationships—via Brynna—and I wasn’t ready to tie any part of my life to someone else. I preferred to live on my own terms. At least for a bit longer.

   Rising, I ran my fingertips across the birthday garment she’d purchased for me from a small boutique in town—a modest, yet exquisite, pastel pink dress with ivory roses stitched into the bodice. The bottom was flowy, settling just above my knees. She’d styled my long chestnut hair half-up and half-down, with a braided crown around a small bun.

   Drawing in a heavy breath, I swiveled and peered into the mirror. Brynna had an extraordinary means of altering me from plain to almost regal. My face was glowing, cheeks dusted in pink, and lips glossed. My golden eyes looked much more pronounced outlined in kohl, and she’d even curled my lashes.

  “So, what do you think?” Brynna asked.

   She slipped on a floor-length, blue silk gown, which hugged her hourglass figure perfectly. Her silky blonde hair was curled over her shoulders, and her makeup made her look like a figurine, finished with ruby red lips. Around her neck, she wore a golden, heart-shaped pendant with a swan engraved on the top. The swan’s eye was a small diamond, a present given by her parents on her sixteenth birthday, and she wore it every day.

   I twisted backward and wrapped her in a hug. “Thank you,” I whispered. “For everything. But seriously, you shouldn’t have.”

   “Hey,” she exhaled, hugging me back. “You’ll enjoy yourself tonight. That’s an order. Your best friend threw this party for you because she loves you.”

   “I love you too,” I sighed.

   The doorbell chimed, causing Brynna to squeal. “They’re here!” She clasped her fingers around my wrist and tugged me down the stairs.

   About fifty guests showed up. Most I didn’t care for, and at least a dozen I didn’t know. Brynna had assured me it would be modest, but word had spread like wildfire. The youth in Southport were always looking for a reason to party, especially when alcohol was involved. And most knew Brynna’s parents were affluent and had an ample supply.

   A couple of visitors said hello and wished me a happy birthday, but the majority didn’t know who I was or even cared. I smiled as I maneuvered through the bodies, trying to intermingle and be cordial. But as usual, I found it awkward associating with others my age. I never felt like I fit in, and they never really cared to include me.

   Although Brynna’s home was spacious, I still felt heated and claustrophobic. There were too many bodies inside.

   Air. I needed fresh, cool air.

   A few of the boys addressed me as I made my way toward the back door, but I quickly claimed I needed to meet someone outside. Lies. I just hoped Brynna wasn’t within hearing distance. If she were, I’d never hear the end of it.

   Hurrying towards the exit, I felt the stares and heard unguarded whispers. Those who recognized me were stunned to see the bashful girl—who usually had her face buried in a book—all made up. Tonight, they were calling me pretty. But it was just a mask, courtesy of Brynna.

   Brynna noticed my attempt to sneak out the back and threw me an unsettled glance. I returned a smile and a thumbs up, letting her know I was fine. Throwing this party—or any party in general—is what made her happy. She loved entertaining guests and was damn good at it. So, if she was happy, I’d be too. For her. She deserved that much.

   Once outside, I discovered reprieve in a shadowed corner just beyond the pool. I stood still, inhaling the balmy salt breeze, gazing up at the moon and watching its luminous light dance across the Argent Sea. I could have stood here all night, alone, with this remarkable view and would have been content.

   Peeking back at the crowd, I realized no one even cared that I’d disappeared. I spotted Brynna and smiled, watching how easily she maneuvered through the crowd, a bit envious of how comfortable her exchanges were with others.

   Brynna and I had been best friends since birth and were raised together. Not only were we born two months apart—she was older—but our parents were best friends and business partners.

   We lived in Southport, a modest coastal town in the country of Sartha—the largest producer of mineral reserves on the continent of Talbrinth. Our fathers owned two of the largest mines, which yielded silver, copper, and gold.

It had taken a few years and a considerable amount of assistance from the communities to bring the mines back up and running after the Great War. But our fathers employed hundreds in Sartha during the process.

Brynna lived in a grand, two-story home on a ridge overlooking the Argent Sea. It was magnificent and lavish, the furnishings extravagant. Her mother spared no expense on the decor, loving to barter and trade at Merchant Port, particularly with merchants from Baelfast who were wealthy in textiles. They’d recently built a pool made with exquisite mosaics, which is another reason why Brynna wanted to throw the party. To show it off.

   My parents were much more reserved with their wealth. My father knew there were still many struggling to get back on their feet after the Great War, so we lived in a modest single-level home that didn’t attract scrutiny . . . at least from the outside. But inside, my mother exhibited tapestries, art, and furnishings that would rival any palace.

   I sucked in a deep breath and let my head fall back, gazing up at the eggplant-colored sky filled with sparkling stars. It never ceased to amaze me how glorious and infinite the sky was, and how insignificant I felt standing beneath it.

As the party crawled on, I found a bench nearby and for the next few hours, perched alone, watching the crowd mingle for my birthday. I could tell a great deal about an individual from observing them—those who were born leaders, those who were followers, and those who’d had way too much to drink.

   The party would be ending shortly anyway because of Sartha’s new curfew. Ever since Sartha’s new ruler, Lord Braddock, came into leadership, any youth under the age of nineteen captured on the roads after the bells tolled at midnight would be thrown in a prison cell where they would spend the night on a cold, stone floor. Stories had spread that the cells were filthy, and rat infested. So very few disobeyed.

   As I rose to my feet, I felt lightheaded. My limbs were suddenly weak and weighted, and my body heated. Taking a few steps backward, I leaned against the cool rock wall behind me. The air became so heavy I could barely breathe.

   What the hell was wrong with me?

  Something inside, deep down in my core, felt as if it was being pulled by an unseen string. A string attached to —I froze in place as my gaze settled across the pool on a pair of azure eyes affixed to the most gorgeous guy I’d ever seen. He was tall, at least six-two, maybe in his mid-twenties. Strands of raven hair feathered across his chiseled face. He wore a crisp, black button-down shirt—a few of the top buttons left undone—and black slacks which caressed his muscular contours.

   Good gods. Where did he come from? He looked as if he’d stepped right out of a dream.

   Voices murmured and people pushed outside to where he was standing. It seemed everybody was trying to figure out who this handsome stranger was and where he’d come from. He was obviously out of his element, failing miserably at blending in.

   My heart was racing, a cold sweat blanketed my body. All within the time he’d arrived.

It didn’t look like he was associated with anybody here, and it made me wonder if he was from our town of Southport, or Sartha for that matter. I’d never seen him before. He had the face of someone I wouldn’t easily forget . . . rich, no doubt, apparent from his attire and stately demeanor.

   And now, he was the life of my party.

   A few of the girls flung themselves into his pathway as he wandered by, seeking to get his attention. But I observed from afar, from my private, shadowed place, marveling at the way he carried himself with a formal reserve.

   I caught a cluster of girls moving toward Brynna, likely to question her. Their lustful eyes raked over the newcomer from head to toe, but as Brynna glanced in his direction, her eyes narrowed, and she shook her head. She didn’t know who he was either.

   He was cordial, his smile melting the young women around him. But he continued to keep himself at a distance.

   What was he doing here?

   But those eyes—those deep, azure eyes—kept finding their way to my dimmed corner. To me. And every time our eyes met, for a few breathless moments, I swore I heard a slight voice which seemed to cover the distance between us saying, “I see you, Calla. I’ve come for you.”

   It was foolish to think such absurd thoughts. I shook my head, struggling to snap from whatever bewitching spell he’d cast over me. But every time he glanced over to where I stood, I found myself slipping further, tangling into whatever mysterious, enchanted web he was weaving.

   I watched a few guys drag their intoxicated dates inside, away from the newcomer, and I didn’t blame them. If I were them, I would have done the same.

   Then, out of the blue, the stranger strode in my direction, his hands tucked casually into his pockets. Each step so smooth, so measured, it was as if he was sliding over air.

   All eyes outside were affixed on him. There was something about him, something regal and commanding in the way he moved, completely postured with each lengthy stride.

   My breath stopped as he halted a foot away from me. I was mesmerized by the way the moonlight shimmered over the sharp contours of his face. And those eyes —

   “Happy Birthday, Calla,” he uttered in a deep, elegant tone. Dipping his head, he presented me with a smile that warmed my insides.

   Gasps erupted, and I could feel the heavy stares of girls who had vied for his attention. Brynna was standing in the crowd with wide eyes, mouth agape, hands crossed over her heart. As her eyes caught mine, she smiled.

Before I could say a word, the stranger leaned over and pressed his cold lips against my cheek, making my insides quiver. I was falling apart, unhinging at the seams. All over a guy? That was not my thing.

   “H—how do you know me?” Those were the first words to exit my mouth, and I immediately wanted to take them back. But I knew everyone within hearing distance was just as anxious to hear his reply.

   Ignoring my question, an incredibly sexy grin spread across his full lips. He reached down and slipped his large hand around mine, swallowing my fingers whole. “Come. I’d like to speak with you.”

   The world dissolved and pooled beneath my feet. Every sound muted, bodies faded, and the only two who remained were this beautiful stranger and me. Without another word, he led me past the guests and into the house.

   “Calla!” Brynna shouted from behind.

   The stranger halted and we both turned to face her. But he was the one who spoke. “Don’t worry. Calla is safe with me. I’d just like to speak with her alone for a moment. If that’s all right?” The sincerity in his darkened eyes and in his gentle voice seemed to melt Brynna’s apprehension . . . and mine.

   Brynna, as if in a trance of her own, glanced at me and nodded. “Okay. But let me know if you need anything.” I nodded back before the stranger proceeded to lead me up the stairs, as if he knew the place.

   Entering one of the rooms, he clicked the door shut behind him, keeping the lights off.

I stepped away from his overpowering presence and stood in the heart of Brynna’s spare bedroom, my feet fixed to the floor. My eyes were frozen on this fiercely beautiful man, powerless to look away, even if I’d wanted to.    Moonlight spilled through the window, gilding his sharpened features and statuesque frame.

   “You’re a vision. Even more beautiful than I imagined,” he finally spoke, his eyes appraising every inch of me. There was a darkness which seemed to emanate from him, and I swore I felt it coiling around me in a cool caress.

Shaking my head, I struggled to free myself from whatever fog had entered my mind.

   “H-how do you know me?”

   He hesitated, carefully regarding my question. “Are you frightened of me?” It wasn’t an answer, but his tone was smooth, gentle.

   “No,” I replied much too easily. But I wasn’t afraid of him. I felt . . . safe, somehow.

His purplish-blue eyes seemed to be glowing, and an almost feral smile raised on the edges of his lips. Lips I envisioned against mine.

   Well defined arms crossed over a broad chest as he leaned against the door, one foot casually crossing over the other. “Tonight, is about you, Calla. And I’ll remain here, fixed to this spot, unless . . .” His head inclined to the side with a lopsided grin. “Unless you want me to come closer.”

   If it were possible, my heart thumped louder inside my chest. My unspoken answer was yes, but it terrified me to say it out loud. I’d never been so carefree or reckless in all my life, never one to throw caution to the wind. But there was something about him. Something mysterious and intriguing. Something every part of me was attracted to. Maybe it was lust, but whatever it was, he had me fully wrapped in it.

Brynna had boasted about her one-night flings. No attachments. Just a single night of fun that was forgotten the next day. If she could manage it, why couldn’t I? It was my birthday after all, and I was now an adult.

   But . . .

   “Why me?” I repeated. “When you could’ve had any one of those girls downstairs.” It was a sincere question of which I expected an honest answer.

   His eyes darkened with an obvious want. “I didn’t come for any girl, Calla. I came for you.”

   Butterflies whirled inside my belly, but he still didn’t answer my question. “Why?”

   His eyes flashed, assessing me. Gods, he was gorgeous.

   “We are somehow connected, you and I.” He seemed as if he was going to take a step forward, but he stopped, remaining in place. “I don’t understand it myself, but I feel tied to you,” he crooned, his gaze narrowed. “You feel it too, don’t you?”

   “I—” I hesitated. I did feel something between us but wasn’t sure what it was. There was an undeniable physical attraction and having him so close caused every cell in my body to hum. But I wasn’t about to admit that to a stranger . . . no matter how attractive he was. For all I knew, he could have been a pervert or a murderer. But as the thought crossed my mind, I didn’t sense he was either. “I’m not certain what I feel.”

His smile grew and with it a need pulsed heavily inside me, melting my core, awakening my deprived desires.

   “Just say the word,” he purred. His voice was low and dripping with seduction, quietly waiting until I recovered my voice. “Tell me to come or tell me to leave. I will willingly do either. The choice is yours.”

    In my mind, I considered the risks. All the risks. But hell, it was my birthday, and I was technically an adult. Besides, he was giving me a choice, and I wasn’t under any influence of alcohol, although around him I felt like it. And I wasn’t being pushed to do anything I didn’t want to.

   My choice.

   I peered deep into those darkened eyes and offered him a nod, tossing my conscience to the wind.

   “Come.”

Of the Blood - Character Cards

OF THE BLOOD

Copyright © 2020 Cameo Renae

 

All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the author.

 

Cover Designer: Jay Villalobos of Covers by Juan

Book design by Red Umbrella Graphic Designs

Editor: Victoria Rae Schmitz of Crimson Tide Editorial

 

First Edition: May 2020

The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.

© 2020 Cameo Renae Books 

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