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To Ben Burnley and Breaking Benjamin, this is for you.

Your lyrics echoed Riley’s thoughts, and your music

guided me throughout the writing of Afterlight.

Acknowledgments

Scores of people contribute to the birth of a novel, and so I’d like to thank the following for their time, friendship, encouragement, and hard work for the birth of Afterlight.

To my husband, Brian, son, Kyle, and daughter, Tyler, for their love, encouragement, and enthusiasm. You are all my love and joy! And for Kyle’s gorgeous Lyndsee, who always reads my books, and for Tyler’s adorable Jonathan, who genuinely wants to know the progress of whatever current project I’m on. Thanks, guys!

To my mom, Dale, who is my biggest cheerleader and best friend, and Ray, my dad, who chats my books up with any and all who will listen. I love you both!

To my beautiful sisters, Sheri, Tracy, and Nikki, and sweet brothers-in-law, Jerry, Jordan, and Will, who believe in me and always support me. To my brothers, Vince and David, and the rest of my enormous family who always chats up my books!

To my sister writer and pal Kim Lenox, who has encouraged me via phone, e-mail, and text endlessly throughout the years. We’re gonna kick BUTT!

To my crazy pals Betty, Chapper, and Grandmother, for traipsing around Savannah’s historic district in the rain with me, and Bonaventure Cemetery for those perfect, inspiring photos, as well as to Bunt, Mol, Walowee, Bhingaling, Vic, Lay-ha, and Anna — thanks to all of you for your treasured friendship and constant encouragement. To Kelly, for phrases like “Oh, Father.” I love you guys! You’re all so nass!

To my sister writer and pal Leah Brown, for the fabulous Strigoi aspect of Afterlight, and for the high-octane enthusiasm, friendship, and cheering. Mu-ah!

To my sister writer and pal Virginia Farmer, for all the support and great ideas and encouragement. Hugs!

To my Denmark Sisterhood, who are always cheering me on!

To Victorian and Valerian (yes, they’re brothers and they’re REAL!), for the use of their awesomely cool names.

To my agent, Jenny Bent, and my editor, Laura Cifelli, and to Jesse Feldman, for all the support and leadership. Thank you, and to everyone else at NAL who worked on Afterlight! Your hard work is appreciated!

To Oceana Gottlieb, fabulous designer of Afterlight’s cover. Thank you so much! It is PERFECT!

To the band Breaking Benjamin, whose music totally rocks! I love you guys!

Finally, to Mike Cummings, owner of Inksomnia Tattoo in Alpharetta, Georgia, for allowing me to use his wicked-cool shop name for Riley’s. Thanks!!

Preface

Savannah, Georgia

City Market

October 

Afterlight. According to the Gullah, it meant two things. One: darkness or dusk. Two: death, the life after, or beyond. I’m familiar with both.

Death I’ve known for a long time. I’ve seen it firsthand, and it left a gruesome imprint in my mind that will haunt me forever. But like most crappy things that have happened in my life, I’ve just dealt with it, and maybe death has made me stronger. One thing I’ve learned is no matter how you face it, and no matter the situation, there’s one constant present: finality. There’s no getting around it.

My vision blurred as I watched the rain pelt the window of the corner booth where I sat at Molly McPherson’s pub, and I blinked to see clearly through the evening shower outside. God, I wanted a smoke, but these days it made me want to puke, so I fished out a piece of nic gum from my bag and popped it into my mouth. October twenty-third, nine p.m., and it was rainy and warm — nearly seventy-five degrees. Nothing was the same anymore, and although the changes were subtle to most, to me they were in-my-face obvious. I knew things others didn’t, and to be perfectly honest, I’m as glad as hell. I’d much rather be totally prepared to face my fears and enemies head-on than be sucker punched because of ignorance — no matter how innocent. And trust me — I was ready. Beneath my short gauzy skirt, the weight of a pure silver blade rested against my bare thigh as a constant reminder.

“Hey, Riley, you want another pint?” The shout crossed the small pub and caught my attention.

I lifted a hand at Martin, the bartender, and shook my head. “No, thanks. I’m good.” He winked and grinned and went about his business. Molly’s wasn’t too packed tonight, but the constant mumble of patrons was a low drone inside my head. If I stayed much longer, my temples would start to throb.

With the palm of my hand I wiped the moisture from the window and scanned the busy, lamplit cobbled streets of Congress Street and City Market. I spotted him beneath the awning at Belford’s. Jesus — how long had he been standing there? Even though I couldn’t see his cerulean blue eyes at such a distance, I knew that Eli had absolutely no trouble at all seeing me, and that his gaze locked solidly onto mine. An unstoppable, relentless thrill shot through my veins, and I shuddered. He stood there for a moment, watching me, and when he stepped into the throng of people out on the wet Friday night, he moved easily through the crowd toward me, effortless and commanding — almost floating. His features were young, flawless, and ancient all at once. Dark brown hair swept tousled and sideways across his forehead, giving him an easygoing, sexy look. It stood stark against the palest, most beautiful skin.

As I watched him grow closer, his features became clearer, and I realized just how deceptive looks really could be. For instance, to most I probably looked like a total freak, with black hair and red-fuchsia highlights, tall leather boots, a fishnet tee, and pale skin with bloodred lips. And I’m pretty positive the dragon tattoos — visible beneath the fishnet — that crept from my lower back up my spine and down both arms made people do a double take, as did the ebony angel wing inked into the skin at the corner of my left eye. I didn’t mind — although an angel I was not. I may not look it, but I’m probably the most responsible person I know. Now, anyway. I’ve a successful business, I pay my bills on time, and after I cleaned up my act I did a pretty good job raising my little brother. So while I was scrutinized, Eli blended right in, and it intrigued me to see him interact with people; they were clueless, oblivious to what was right beneath their noses despite the faultless, boyish, breathtaking good looks and charm. I wasn’t. Not anymore.

The bad thing, and this I knew with complete clarity, was that I’d die for him. And if such a thing were possible, he’d die for me. Was that love? Obsession? Maybe it was both. But it was definitely something powerful, and I no longer had control over it. It was terrifying and exhilarating all at once. Talk about a high. It topped any drug I’d ever done.

I scooted from the booth and stood, dropped a five-dollar bill on the table, and waved good-bye to Martin as I headed out into the now-constant drizzle. As the distance between us grew shorter, I could finally see the lamplight shine off his disturbing eyes as they searched mine, and my heart slammed against my ribs. I knew that there were much greater horrors, and sorrows, than death. Unimaginable things that just a few short months ago I would have vehemently disputed ever existed. Vampires. They’re real. They exist. And they’re so not what you think they are.

And I was utterly, irrevocably in love with one.

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