Another alarm interrupted Dani’s hard-won sleep. Gods in all the heavens knew she didn’t get enough. This alarm, though, she couldn’t ignore; it meant trouble of the urgent variety. Again. Nothing new in her life, just another nine to five day, only nine to five for her was 9 pm to 5 am.
Fully accustomed to her job’s requirements, she slipped into the clothes always lying ready beside her wonderfully comfortable bed that she rarely got to spend a night in, zipped up custom-fitted boots that carried several tools for her trade, and palmed her baby. Sweet little zapper, an electric shock pellet gun that stopped…she grinned as she popped it into its holster…that stopped just about anything.
Dressed in seconds, she lifted her keyfob and ID, speeding out of the house, and slipped a leg over her state-of-the-art jetbike, specially designed with an almost silent engine. Stealth was essential for a hunter; could mean the difference between making it home or being eaten.
Her quarry…vampires. Bad ones, not the kind, loving earth-protecting vampires she’d been introduced to two years ago, but assholes who tore their way through innocents unaware that vampires existed. It was her job to protect those innocents, bound by honor and promise to use her unique skills in service to those who couldn’t protect themselves.
It still shocked her that she’d become a warrior kitted out with weaponry that would have scared the shit out of her back in New Orleans where she and her twin brother prepared to enter university for their doctorates in science.
University, studies, a career in multidisciplinary sciences and geology, that was a ship long sailed. No time for ruminations or regrets.
“Focus, girl,” she told herself, aware that she was failing her promise to stop talking to herself so much.
It makes you sound cra-a-z-z-y, she reminded herself in that sing-songy way that annoyed the shit out of her closest associates and friends. Which is one reason she did it.
Traveling through country roads far too fast on the jetbike, she cornered the empty streets expertly, aware that she should slow down but damn, she loved the ease at which her skill carried her effortlessly around a ninety degree turn. Grinning into the wind, she admitted that, while science was her first love, riding the edge of danger in this unexpected career had turned out to be her calling.
Good thing she worked mostly at night. When she got into town, light traffic allowed her to blow through stoplights with little concern for collisions or cops. Right now, it mattered more to get to her destination; her team needed her as soon as possible. Dani made the thirty minute drive in eighteen.
Moving slower down the alley behind a club she’d visited more often than she’d ever like to admit, the engine on her bike nearly silent, she slipped into a space near the old brick wall behind Blessed Nights. Less than nice, but better than some, the bar specialized in serving those who drank to forget and those who drank to forget the hook-up they were there to make.
Dani would have to tune in to those patrons with both desires. There were times it hurt her soul and others when it turned her stomach. There were moments she hated her job of four months, but mostly, she loved what she did now and the incredible hunters she shared that job with.
“Dani, you near?”
The voice in her coms was soft, melodic, and always made her heart smile. “Hey, Eva. In the alley. I’ll come through the back.”
“Thank God. We’re pretty sure we have a nest, girl.”
“Shit. Jack here with you?”
“Not yet, but he’s on his way.”
“Yeah, by my side, as always.”
“You two stay put.”
“Not moving without serious backup. Kwano’s enroute too.”
“Now you’re talking.”
Dani keyed in a code to open a door that led to the storage room of Blessed Nights. The hunters had saved numerous guests of the establishment, having long ago enlisted the aid of the owner as a watcher. He was well aware that, while the hunting teams were being shut down, vampires who killed still had to be stopped, but by teams that included vampires.
After navigating various guests hanging out in the hallway leading to the restrooms, Dani scanned the busy club and saw her two associates turned close friends at a table a few rows away from an old-fashioned LCD-lit dance floor. Once she weaved through the filled tables between her and San and Eva, she dropped into the spare chair.
“Hey, ladies. Need some help with a few troublesome fangs?”
San leaned close and tugged on the barely concealed dagger at Dani’s side, whispering into her ear. “Naw, we could handle it. We just needed a hot wing-girl tonight.”
“You do make a gal feel welcome. So, uh.”
Dani let her eyes slide over the tables around the one they’d chosen. She zoned in immediately to her left to where three large men seated at a table with many empty glasses searched the dance floor. Bingo.
“Ah, hot-blooded boys watching the take-out menu you mentioned. Yes, your instincts were right, they’re fangs.”
Sanquinetta leaned close so she didn’t have to speak too loudly. Vamps could hear individual conversations if they focused on them. “My special senses were tingling the minute we saw them. All the right shit in the right places.”
“I’d say. Burt clue you in?”
“Yeah. It’s a good thing we didn’t purge him. He owns the most popular club in a hundred miles. If any vamps are hunting, this is likely first on their list.”
“Doubtless. Look at the eye candy. Drunk, dancing, and ripe for plucking. I hope our own fangs get here soon.”
“They should. We just need to relax, drink, carefully, and enjoy each other’s company.” To illustrate her point, San picked up a glass of dark cherry wine and took a long sip. “Umm. They’re behaving so far.”
“It would be nice if they keep that up. When are the boys due?” Dani followed her friend’s example and took a sip from Sanquinetta’s glass. “Ooh, that is good. I should get some.”
Dani laughed when Sanquinetta gave her a long sideways glance of admonishment.
“Huh. Yeah, your own. They were about thirty minutes by lift-car. They’re coming from checking out a situation in Carmel.”
“Okay, then I have time for a trip to the lady’s room.”
Evaleigh nodded. “I’ll order another round.”
“I’ll take one of San’s cherry wines.”
Her eyes averted from the table of vampires so not to draw attention, Dani weaved her way through the crowd between her and a doorway beyond the dance floor marked by brightly lit signs for Ladies and Gents. While all three of the hunters at her table were capable of defending themselves, they were also all aware that humans only take on multiples of vampires with vampire aid or in the gravest of emergencies.
They would wait until Jack and Kwano arrived. Right now, her full bladder demanded attention. Swinging through the door of what was actually a clean, well decorated women’s restroom, she did her business, washed her hands, checked her face (she wasn’t sure if there was ever a woman who didn’t), and opened the door to rejoin her friends.
As soon as the door opened, her empathic senses soared. Vampire. Near. Where?
A woman blocked the exit, trying to push past Dani, who’d stopped in her tracks.
“Sorry,” Dani apologized, her attention split as she glared down the hallway searching for one of the vampires they had been watching. She realized her mistake instantly the second she looked up at the woman and realized she was vampire.
The woman smiled. “Gotcha. Stay still. Don’t speak.”
Fortunately, the vampire had no clue that as an earth warrior, Dani could not be compelled. Feigning compliance, she stayed still until she could choose her best course of action. While stronger than most humans, she couldn’t easily best a vampire, so strategy was her best defense now.
Dani hadn’t sensed another vampire in the club. The woman must have come through the rear entrance. Ready to make her move, she stopped when the woman called over her shoulder to someone who had just entered the hallway.
“Barringer, she’s yours.”
From behind the hallway entrance, one of the male vampires they had been watching revealed himself. He walked directly in front of Dani, his smile serpent-like.
“Indeed she is. Look what I got here. A little human vampire hunter just in time for second meal. Miranda, take her home. I’ll bring the others shortly.”
Nodding, Miranda’s eyes returned to Dani’s as he disappeared back into the club. This was her opportunity.
“Oh, you are in for a ride, dearie. Those men have enormous dicks and they stay hard. Your pussy won’t get much rest tonight, but if they like you, they’ll keep you around. You better hope they like you.”
She pushed a loose strand of Dani’s hair behind her ear. “Your skin is flawless for a human. I love that rich brown. You’re seriously hot, girl, I think I’ll take a turn too. We all play well together. I guess I better get you out of here before your friends come looking for you.”
Pulling the shock gun from her side, Dani fired into the female vampire’s side, rendering her unconscious, and headed toward the end of the hallway to rejoin her team when the male vampire came back through the door, quickly sizing up the situation.
“Stop,” he commanded.
Dani smiled. “I don’t think so.”
He glanced at Miranda, crumpled on the floor, then back to Dani. “You can’t be compelled.”
“Bingo, asshole. Get out of my way. You can’t stop me.”
“Really?” He held up his fone. “What if I tell you that within a split second, I can have my guys snap your friend’s necks?”
Fuck, no! “I’ll kill you if you touch them.”
“Then you better play nice. You might somehow be able to beat compulsion, but you don’t want those women to die, that I know. I saw the three of you sisterly sweet together at your table. Hand over the stun gun or they die.”
Stalemate, but only if she was willing to risk San and Eva’s lives, and she wasn’t. She would give hers for them any day. While she considered her options, the vampire spoke into his fone.
“Stand by to…”
“Stop. Okay. Here. But if you hurt them, I swear to you, I’ll slice you into pieces so slowly you’ll beg for sunlight.”
Using her weapon, he fired the electric current at Dani and she went down. “Yeah, I don’t think so.”
Music faded from a rapid driving beat to a slow tune as couples gathered on the dance floor.
Having paid for a new round of drinks, Evaleigh lifted her eyes to the vampires when she noticed that one had risen, heading for the restrooms. She put a hand on Sanquinetta’s arm, who looked up and followed Evaleigh’s gaze.
“Shit,” San whispered.
“Dani,” Evaleigh said.
“I’ll check on her.”
“Good thing. We’ll both go.”
As they stood, the vampire returned to his table.
Pausing, Evaleigh touched Sanquinetta again. “He wasn’t gone long enough to have done something to her.”
“No, but let’s check on her anyway.”
Winding past tightly wrapped couples and through the entrance to the restrooms, down the hallway, they pushed in the door marked Ladies in gold lettering.
Two women were parked in front of the row of sinks staring into the mirror as Sanquinetta checked the stalls.
“Empty.” She exchanged a worried glance with Evaleigh as she called out, “Dani? Dani, are you in here?” even though they could see that she wasn’t.
“The fangs,” Evaleigh snapped, pulling her stun gun out as the door closed behind the two women leaving.
Sanquinetta nodded and pulled hers out too as they raced from the hallway and back into the club’s main room, the loud melody bouncing off the walls.
Sanquinetta’s heart stopped when she looked at the table where three vampire males had been drinking since they arrived tonight.
“They’re gone.” Searching the dance floor and spiraling outward, Evaleigh’s eyes moved rapidly from one figure to the next, aware Sanquinetta would be doing the same. She didn’t see them anywhere.
“Yeah,” Sanquinetta sighed. “They’re gone.”
Twenty minutes earlier
Even though he was vampire, Jack still felt uneasy in a lift-car. Although a crash wouldn’t kill him now, his distrust remained and he couldn’t stop squirming while he watched Kwano expertly drive the car.
“Man, I hate flying.”
Kwano shot him an amused look. “Get used to it. In a vampire’s life, you’ll travel a great deal. These lift-cars are a godsend. You really can’t fly one?”
“Nope. Don’t plan to learn.”
Annoying chinging interrupted their conversation, so Jack looked at the screen of his fone and smiled.
“Hey, it’s Saul.” He held the fone out. “Accept. Speaker.”
The fone automatically accepted the call and opened the speaker.
“Saul, hey there. How are you doing?”
Saul’s voice was almost as clear as if he were there.
“Hey. Good. Actually, I’m back at HQ. Where is everyone?”
“You’re back? You staying?”
“I plan to. Don’t tell anyone, but I’ve really missed working with you half-wits.”
Kwano rolled his eyes. “From one half-wit to another, welcome back.”
“Thank you. Where are you guys? Are you on a mission?”
“We’re on our way to Blessed Nights. Why don’t you join us? The girls are there keeping an eye on some vamp activity.”
“I’d love to. I’ve got a new lift-car that flies faster than any you’ve ever been in.”
“Great. Won’t be flying with you in that thing, but I look forward to seeing you again. Hey, you’ll get to meet Dani.”
“San’s told me about her. All right. I’ll see all of you soon.”
Saul rang off. Setting his fone on the console, Jack grinned. “So my sire has returned. Did he really become first blood?”
Shaking his head, Kwano prepared to lower the car.
“You don’t become first blood. He was born first blood, but he hadn’t connected to his heritage or his spirit amulet. Now that he has, he should be full-blooded and have access to his talents.”
“He’ll look different, won’t he? Bigger, like you and Xavier.”
“He will. Bigger, more powerful, he’ll have special skills that will now manifest. He’ll still be the same man you know, though, Jack.”
“Yeah, I get that. I’ve pitched any pre-judgement of supernaturals, Kwano. We were deeply mistaken, and for that, I will bear a stain of guilt forever.”
“It isn’t your cross to bear. It was all you knew, how you were raised. You couldn’t have done anything different.”
“I still feel culpable. So, Saul’s back. It’ll be nice to see him again. We worked well together.”
“Admit it, you like the guy.”
“Yeah, I do.”
“I do too. We’ll be six strong then. An unbeatable force.”
The rest of the journey was quiet, Jack’s mind on the changing dynamics of their odd cobbled-together little hunter slash vampire group of soldiers sanctioned to right the wrongs of the past century.
He couldn’t believe how exceptional his life had become just because he’d taken San’s suggestion and braved a walk down to the beach to meet a woman who would change his life. Not only his life, but hundreds, perhaps thousands, more.
Since he’d met Ife, they’d closed down dozens of hunter’s groups whose missions were to kill vampires on sight, going by the long-mistaken belief that all were blood-sucking murderers of innocent humans.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The love and support, the incomparable serenity of the vampire world, had transformed him. A stunning woman he loved more than his own life had shown him a world where he could live for centuries and beyond; young, healthy, able to accomplish more than any man could do in the breadth of a single human lifetime.
Jack felt humbled and grateful every night when he woke that Ife had been on that beach, naked, that incredible vampire body exposed to him, and he’d fallen in love; mind, body, heart, soul.
Saul may have made him vampire, but Ife had made him whole.
“We’re going in, Jack. Big drop in altitude coming.”
Ugh. Landing was at once Jack’s most and least favorite part of a lift-car drive. That sudden belly flutter when the car dropped from elevation to ground level was, for most people, a tickling, pleasurable sensation.
For Jack, it was a “wait to see if you’re going to die” sensation.
Tonight, Kwano landed the lift-car smoothly with very little touchdown bump.
Blowing up his cheeks, Jack released a long puff of breath. “Thank you, buddy.”
“You’re welcome. Someday, I’m going to get you behind these controls.”
“Good luck with that.” Jack hopped out, belaying the desire to fall to his knees and thank the ground for being safe, sound, and stable.
Kwano lifted his head, and Jack followed his gaze to see a sleek lift-car hovering beside theirs as it lowered and landed in the alley.
The door slid open and Saul came out, forgoing the step-down and dropping right to the ground.
Jack’s first impression was “damn!” and then he saw Saul’s smile. The same old smile that used to make them all feel kinship with the first vampire on their team months ago.
Moving toward them, Saul shook Jack and Kwano’s hands. Not accustomed to physical touch with other men unless it was a punch, Jack felt odd, but he lingered on the grasp.
“Saul. Great to see you, man. So, uh, you’ve bulked the fuck up, haven’t you?”
“Came with the title. First blood. I would never have believed it.”
“It’s pretty crazy.” Jack paused as he looked at his electronic keyfob. “Guess we’d better head in. The girls are waiting.”
“Sure. I can’t wait to see San and Eva.”
Laughing, Jack opened the rear entrance to Blessed Nights. “Wait until you meet Dani. We have the triquetra of beauty, skill, and brilliance in those ladies. I sparred with them once, three human females and a vampire, and they took me down in minutes, without a weapon.”
“You’ve trained them well.”
“It isn’t me. Each woman brings her own abilities and they’ve learned to weave them together into an awesome net. You’ll have to try it sometime.”
Jack’s fone began to chime again.
“It’s San. Accept. Hey, San, we’re…”
Jack stopped speaking abruptly, his attention now fully involved with the call. He nodded to the fone and barked, “We’re here now. Be with you in seconds.”
He lifted his eyes to Saul and Kwano.
Well aware of the danger and urgency, the three vampires moved straight through the club to the main room.
“There,” Jack said, his voice uninflected, as they joined Evaleigh and Sanquinetta.
“Thank God. Jack, we had three vamps, male, we’ve been watching all night with no movement on their part. Waiting for you guys to arrive, Dani went to the ladies room and didn’t return. Just before we decided to check on her, one of the vamps had gone to that area, but returned within moments. We went to find her and there’s no sign of her at all. We were getting ready to check the security vid feeds when I called you just now.”
“Let’s do it.”
Sanquinetta followed Jack as he led them behind the music stand to the manager’s office. She paused to hug Saul. “Welcome back. Whew, that’s some nice muscle.”
“Just for you, warrior princess. Glad to see both of my beautiful friends again.”
Evaleigh tapped Saul on the forearm. “You too, big guy.”
“This way.” Jack repeated as they opened a heavy metal door and closed it behind them.
Evaleigh moved around the others. “The vid access is in here. Ah, there it is.”
Her fingers flew over the keyboard, selecting views from the bathroom area. “I won’t have access to the inside of the ladies room, but the hallway, which is where they would have taken her out of here, I will.”
Images flew by until she isolated the timestamp she had been searching for. Five pairs of eyes watched Dani’s abduction unfold.
The male vampire had left her behind with a dark-haired female vamp who obviously had caught Dani unaware. They watched as Dani spoke with the male vampire after she’d disabled the female.
When Dani handed her shock gun to the male, and he fired it at her, they all knew he had to have threatened her companions; it was the only reason she would have done it.
“Anyone recognize either of those vampires?” Jack barked.
Negative answers ended with Jack’s explosive sigh. “Well, we go find them and Dani. She’s good at protecting herself, but against a group of vampires, she’s probably as helpless as a kitten.”
He slammed a hand down on the desktop enough to dent the metal.
“Fuck! I shouldn’t have let you guys come here alone.”
Sanquinetta vehemently shook her head. “No, Jack, don’t act like this, don’t discredit us. We’ve done these recons dozens of times. This one just went sideways. That happens. Now, we go get her back. Sanquinetta don’t accept failure.”
“Here.” Evaleigh rapidly punched several keys and three vid images froze. “Here. He went toward the main parking lot and put Dani in a lift-car. I can’t track that, but I can’t believe they’re too far from here. If those vampires are here hunting and partying, they’re likely staying nearby.”
She pointed to the second image. “This is the vamp who spoke with her in the hallway. His buddies left almost as soon as San and I went into the hallway. They did not use a lift-car, but their land vehicle was parked in the dark and it’s impossible to see what it is.”
“Grid search,” Sanquinetta announced.
Saul had been quiet, his eyes on the third image that showed a fairly clear shot of the vampire’s faces. He finally looked at his companions. “I think I have another idea.”
With everyone’s full attention, he continued.
“I recognize one of these guys. They’re rogues, for sure, but I haven’t known them to kill. It wouldn’t surprise me if they’re abusive, but they don’t leave victims.”
“They purge them,” Kwano explained.
“Yeah. There comes a time when you just have to accept that things aren’t always as they should be. While I never condoned that type of behavior, I knew I couldn’t stop it. Now, with this team, I have the ability to do so. In the past, I never ran with them, they weren’t my type of people, but we knew each other by sight. If we can find them, and I might have an idea there too, I may be able to go in, get close to them, and get Dani out before they even know what happened.”
“Saul, really? Fuck, that would be a miracle. Where do you think they might be?”
“They used to hang around an old brewery on the east side of town. It’s long abandoned, but has a large, deep basement. The perfect vampire lair. I would bet that’s where they are. Even vampires are creatures of habit.”
“Go get her, Saul. You saw what that vampire said. He knows she’s a hunter, so she’s in more danger than a normal human captive might be.”
“Of that I have no doubt. I’ll have to go in alone. If they sense anything, they’ll fight, and if I’m right, it’s a big group. We’d be up against more than a dozen skilled fighters.”
“We have two first bloods, I’m pretty sure we can take them.”
“Likely, but let me go in, scope it out, check to see if she’s there, and I’ll come back for the rest of you if she’s too well guarded and I can’t get her free.”
The others nodded, in full agreement with his plan.
One on one, Saul looked into their eyes. “All right. The brewery is about half an hour by lift-car. Why don’t you follow me and put down outside of view. I’ll go in and see if she’s there. Even if she isn’t, honestly, this group bears watching. There’s a pretty high probability that even if most aren’t hurting anyone, some might be.”
Jack paced in his small space. “They’re on our radar now, yeah, so we’ll keep an eye out. Shit, this is our life now. Unsanctioned police officers for the vampire world?”
Kwano thumped him on the back. “You didn’t know that already? That is exactly what we are. Unpaid with no glory. Welcome to Xavier’s army.”
“Huh. Fuck, I guess so. Come on, let’s go get Dani.”
Saul slid into his lift-car, happy to be of help to this team on his first night back, but worried that they might have lost one of them on his first night back too. Kwano was right. No glory, only prayers that things go well, and heartbreak when they didn’t. He lifted off and headed east.
In the basement of an old brewery
Dani knew where she was, she recognized the area they’d flown over. Deep in the country, the abandoned brewery was isolated enough to make a perfect vampire’s lair; especially after she saw it had an enormous finished basement. Her team would never find her here. Not in time anyway.
She had been ordered into a chair in the far corner of the basement where several of the vampires, all of them drunk, as many as fifteen that she had counted, cruised by to taunt her. One particular asshole had stopped to lick her neck. Twice.
“I’m going to kill you first,” she’d murmured under her breath the second time he’d done it, which made him laugh and pour some of his wine on her chest. None of this bode well for her survival.
Her female abductor was now half-dressed and straddling the lap of a big bear-sized vampire who had taken off his pants. Dani kept her eyes averted when she realized that he was pumping into her as she shot-gunned wine and threw her hair back to look over and see if Dani watched the show.
“Hey, little hunter,” Miranda called out. “This is going to be your job as soon as these giant apes get some booze and chow in them. Hope your pussy is used to big meat.”
Eyes on the floor, Dani sighed. Hardly. They’d tear her open and enjoy it. One after the other. Even if they didn’t kill her, and she was pretty sure they would, given her hunter status that they were unfortunately aware of, fuck her luck, she’d be messed up beyond all repair.
Best they kill her. It was her own mistake, anyway. Any good hunter knows not to let their guard down, not to assume, just because someone doesn’t fit the description or profile of their target, doesn’t mean they aren’t a threat.
To do so was how good hunters became dead hunters.
A few moments ago, the male hunter that took her from the hallway at Blessed Nights had come down the metal staircase, boots clanging on each step. Like the other vampires, he walked over to greet her, squatted, took his time looking her over, his eyes boring into hers finally.
“Yum, my favorite entree.”
He unzipped her leather top to slide his hands beneath and over her nipples. “Dinner, then dessert, though. We’ll all get a piece of you.”
Standing, he slid a foot up to bump hers. “But I’m first.”
Dani wanted to fight back, but couldn’t with so many vamps so close, but her eyes shot fire into his. “I’m going to kill you all.”
He nodded. “I know you would if you could, but you won’t. Not if you want the hot blonde and sexy brunette to live. What a pretty little empty threat from a pretty little lady. I may have to keep you around if you continue to amuse me like this.”
Facing the partying group of vampires, he called out.
“Someone get me a cold one!”
Hearty catcalls and whoo-whoo’s went up as several brought him a can of beer and led him toward the table set up for second meal. One last glance at Dani, with his tongue curling out toward her, licking into the air several times, and he turned to dine.
Alone now in the corner while the rowdy group attended to their meal and boisterous conversations, Dani let her mind wander, trying to calm down. This was a done deal. Accept what would happen, try not to let them break her, look for any possible escape, and barring that, kill as many as she could before they took her down for the final time. Fight until the end and go into the spirit world with no regrets. It would be an honorable death. Unless she took Eva and San with her.
Constantly searching, watching every movement, listening to every word, Dani knew if there was any chance she would get out of this, if she were to survive, it might only be a small window of opportunity. She’d already committed any name she heard, voices, descriptions, to memory, so that if she could escape, she’d be able to find them again. If only she could verify at some point that her friends were safe. Jack and Kwano would be searching for them even now.
Amazingly, her respiration slowed, and the fear and anger that had been driving her since she had been taken floated away. There was something to be said about this special talent she carried.
Her head lowered, she whispered her gratitude to the powers that guided this crazy mess she’d been drafted into nearly two years ago. Her greatest regret would be if she never had the chance to say goodbye to her brother.
“I’m sorry, Dylan.”
Outside the brewery, Saul nodded to himself. It looked like the vampires were there as he suspected. The interior was lit, barely visible from outside unless you were right beside the big entry doors. His coms chirped as he slid one into his ear.
“I think we’re in business. Remember, don’t come into the building unless I call for you. I’ll keep the coms open so you can hear everything.”
Entering a small side door, Saul followed a series of wall-mounted crystal diode lamps through a maze of hallways that led to stairs descending into darkness. He could hear music reverberating off walls below, so he knew that he’d been right. The vampires he sought were here tonight.
Turning a final corner on the stairwell, he paused on the last step to glance around at a considerable amount of people, perhaps half vampire, half human, dancing, eating, and near the perimeter, a couple of groups fucking. He was able to enter the fray without trouble until the man he had recognized on the vid footage, a casual acquaintance, looked up from the table where he had been dining and saw him moving toward him. His eyes clamped on Saul.
“Hey. What are you doing here? Stop.”
The interception fully expected, Saul stopped at once and gave him a lazy smile. “Barringer. Hey, there.”
Barringer advance on him, standing, arms folded, inches from Saul. “Haven’t seen you in two, three years. Where’d you come from?”
“Vancouver. Dropped down to check on a make from those days. I remembered you guys knew how to party so I stopped in, hoping you were still here since I’m looking for shelter for the night. Lucky for me, you are.”
Suspicion dropped from Barringer’s eyes. “You bet we are. This lair is perfect for our large group, no reason to leave it. We haven’t been bothered the entire time we’ve been here. You’re welcome, of course. Everyone, this is…Saul isn’t it?”
“Good memory. Yeah, that’s right.”
“I remember you had quite an appetite for partying back then. Have a seat, we have plenty of food, and as usual, endless choices for fucking and sucking. Feel free.”
“Thanks, man. It was a long drive and I could use the down time.”
“Make yourself at home.”
Saul nodded and reached for a cold beer, playing the part of the partying vampire looking for a good time and a place to sleep. He smiled at Barringer and picked up a plate to cruise the tables filled with enough food to keep a group of vampires this size satiated. Once he noticed Barringer’s attention return to the woman on his lap, human, he let his gaze move in a measured search. There were a lot of faces in the basement of this building, and he only had a pic to identify Dani from, although if the pic was even close to correct, she should stand out.
Moving through the crowd, an easy smile on his face, the beer carefully nursed, his eyes moved quickly, efficiently, over the partiers. No one looked even remotely like Dani’s image, but it was a large area.
He’d wandered through most of the main area toward the back, an area poorly lit, and saw movement in the corner where a chair had been placed alone. Saul’s heart started to pound as a strange sensation moved through him, somewhat like what vampires felt when they encountered another vampire’s lifeforce, but this was not the same.
“Jack said you were special,” he murmured low, and continued toward the person seated on the chair. He noticed a young vampire nearby holding a stun gun that looked like the ones the hunters used. These assholes had no intention of letting her go.
Near now, he heard a sigh and moved close, dropping down to look into a woman’s downcast face, certain that it was Dani. When she looked up seconds later, eyes with bright catch-lights caught his.
“What do you want?” The demand in her strong melodic voice surprised Saul. He heard and sensed no fear.
Good for you, he thought. Glancing around to ensure no one would overhear him, he tucked a finger under her chin to capture her eyes. “I’m Saul. I’m with your hunters. I’m here for you. Have they hurt you?”
Cold eyes struck his, searching his face, and he could feel tethers of her power reaching for him. Jack had told him she had some earth-based magic, but it still startled him to feel her mind touch his. He knew the moment Dani saw what she needed and accepted he really was here to rescue her.
“Not yet. But promises have been made. It’s good to meet you, Saul. Really good.” She paused as her gaze lifted to the burgeoning room, then returned to his face. “Saul, they have Eva and San. Are they okay?”
“They don’t have them. Dani, they never did. They’re fine.”
“Bastards!” she spat. “I’m ready to go, but it isn’t going to be easy.”
“Nothing ever is, but we’ll manage. I need to look like I belong, so forgive my behavior. I’m going to leave you for now, but I won’t desert you. Also, the rest of the team is waiting outside.”
“Believe me, I’m ready to kick vamp ass.”
As he stood, he heard a second sigh from the darkness. For some reason, he already felt bound to her. No matter what happened, he wouldn’t leave without Dani tonight. He forgave himself for a sudden intense desire to see her in full light.
Four vampires were playing a game of digiball only ten feet from Dani’s corner where, under guard, she would remain until he could safely get her out of this too well protected basement. Saul moved away to watch the game, trying to feign interest as he assessed his chances of escaping unnoticed or at least without pursuit. Odds were against that.
Nagging at his thoughts was the fact that he had new talents that he could use against the vampires, but, still learning how to wield his first blood magics, he wasn’t entirely certain he’d be successful. Then, he would have outed himself and with no less than a dozen vampires in the room, he might be in more trouble than the woman he had come to rescue. Only one plan possibly assured success.
Saul weaved his way back to the table to grab a second beer and a thick meat-filled sandwich, away from the bulk of the partying crowd. Turned aside, the sandwich near his mouth to block it, he spoke, the coms waiting to pick up every word.
“I imagine you heard her. She’s okay. Give me a few more minutes to test the scope of the room, but I think our best chance of getting her out of here is for Kwano to join me and use his skills. I’ll do what I can, but I still have my learner’s permit.”
Jack’s voice answered, tinny but clear. “God, yes, we did. We’re relieved but we’re also pulling at the chain to get in there, so let us know as soon as possible.”
“Will do. Off I go.”
From her quiet corner absent of much light, Dani wondered two things. At first, watching the party, she didn’t understand why she had been abandoned here and ignored. Why hadn’t someone approached her? With all the vampires in the room, and at least some of them aware she was one of the hated hunters they’d captured, why hadn’t she been assaulted, fed on, or worse? Just the fact that they had abducted her meant they were hardly kind, upstanding members of society.
After the strange sensation she experienced when Saul came to her, she’d been shocked when he lowered his big body down next to her and revealed who he was. She wasn’t alone down here anymore; her team had found her, bless the spirits of the universe! It made sense, that he would need to be cautious in springing her from so many vampires, but at least she had a chance of making it out of this alive.
Alone again, her eyes followed him as he walked away unhurried.
So that was Saul. Long dark-honey-colored hair pulled back, bound with a strip of leather, strands hanging low over glittering amber eyes. Evaleigh had mentioned him not long after Dani had joined the hunters.
“He’s sexy as hell, but sort of tough to get to know. I’ll be forever grateful that he brought me into this group. He’s gone now, and I don’t know if he’ll be back. San said that he left to become a first blood, whatever that is. It’s too bad. I’ve never been with a vampire. My grandmother used to tell me that still waters run deep, and in Saul, I think they really do. With him, I wouldn’t have minded taking a swim to find out.”
Still waters. Dani was certain of it. Empathic reads could be difficult, especially with supernaturals, and most certainly with first bloods, but this man had seen centuries of life, and she could feel a great deal of pain underlying a soft heart easily bruised. Here he was, though, risking himself to save someone he didn’t know.
Needing to see him again, to connect to him, she searched through the moving bodies and finally found Saul across the expansive space. Her hero.
“Let this go well,” she whispered.
Saul considered his options. There were too many vampires in this basement, the rescue tricky enough even with their entire team involved. Odds were high enough that if they came in, guns a’blazing, so to speak, someone might get hurt. If he could just sneak her out without…
His eyes shot to Barringer, who was making his way toward him.
Fuck. That kind of attention wasn’t going to help at all.
When he reached Saul, Barringer snagged his bicep.
“Fuck, you’re ripped. I don’t remember you being this big before. Huh. Anyway, come with me, I gotta show you something. You’ll like this.”
Following, Saul wondered what the hell he meant, discouraged when he led him to the other side of the room toward Dani.
“What is it?”
Barringer laughed with a snort. “A vampire hunter. You know they’ve been killing our kind for decades. We finally caught one. Hot piece of ass, too. Which, by the way, I’m going to light up with my cock as soon as we finish second meal.”
Nodding, Saul froze a smile on his lips. This was going to shit fast.
Barringer stopped in front of Dani. “Step out into the light, hunter.”
Heartsick, Saul watched Dani stand and walk forward, the shaft of light from a pointed crystal bulb striking her as she moved beneath it.
He’d been right. She was stunning. Smooth milk chocolate skin peeked out from beneath a cloud of black hair, tousled from her rough treatment. A tight-fitting catsuit showed a full curved figure. And she was barefoot. Saul’s eyes stayed on her face as she lifted deep brown eyes to his.
Their gazes locked as he tried to send reassurance to her, but, the armed guard waiting close, unable to defend herself, she was both pissed and afraid. He watched her wisely shift her gaze to Barringer, lest he become suspicious of her interest in Saul.
“Fucking gorgeous, isn’t she?”
“Yes, she is. What are you going to do with her?”
“Not sure. I’m not letting her go, though. She’s a vampire killer, Saul. No way I’m letting her get the chance to do it again. Nope, she’s mine now. Hey, little hunter, let me see what I’ve got. Take off your clothes.”
Immobile, Saul wanted to stop this, but with everyone watching her now, it would be a bloodbath.
He could see her face, now more furious than terrified. Cheeks flaming, Dani’s eyes lazer-focused on Barringer, then shot to Saul.
The catsuit had a long zipper in front. Dani’s fingers fluttered around the pull for several minutes before she curled them around the metal pull.
Fury roiled inside Dani, her heart pumping blood twice its normal rate; so much so, she could feel her fingers pulse as she rested them on her zipper. She watched him finger a long bladed knife, the threat clear if she didn’t comply. Still she didn’t move, her head and eyes on him in defiance.
Barringer laughed. “She can’t be compelled. I’m still trying to figure that out. So, Saul, why don’t you help her out? Undress her for me.”
Saul’s eyes shot to Barringer, well aware what the asshole was doing. Barringer wanted Saul to prove he was on board with his agenda to assault the hunter he’d caught. He wanted Saul to show complicity and approval. Fuck.
Bringing his gaze back to Dani, he realized she understood too, and saw permission in her eyes. She was smart enough to know that they skirted between their own principles and doing whatever they had to in order to survive.
He had no choice. Saul would have to do it.
Grinning suddenly, playing the part, Saul moved closer, his fingers curling around the zipper of Dani’s catsuit, and brushed where her fingers had stalled. Curving his hand around hers, he hoped to assure her that it was okay as he moved her fingers aside to tug the pull down, sliding it lower and lower until it met its end and stopped just above her crotch. He was grateful to see she wore underwear which would protect her dignity a little longer as he brought his fingers over the top of her shoulder line and, his eyes clamped on hers, slid the one-piece suit over smooth skin to watch it fall to her hips.
Dani didn’t move, just froze as Saul’s warm fingers caressed her skin. Having him undress her in front of dozens of people didn’t upset her. Not having a weapon or the ability to defend herself did. At this point, she was trying to have faith in the new vampire in her life; that her team of friends would be able to pull off a rescue with no one lost in the fight. If any member of her team, her new family, were injured, none of these assholes could run fast or far enough to escape her.
Right now, she just needed to make it through this alive and unmolested. It helped that the creep responsible for her abduction had chosen Saul to help strip her.
He was being so careful, respectful, too respectful, she was afraid the vampires might suspect he wasn’t into abusing their “hunter” captive.
Clamping her hand around his as it lingered near her hips, she caught his eyes and sent a message to him that she was okay that he needed to play up to their expectation.
He got it.
Stepping within a hairs breadth of her, Saul grabbed the catsuit at her hips and tore it straight down. He shoved his fingertips along the edge of her panties as his eyes went to her nipples, dark, erect, easily visible through the ultrathin fabric of her bra. Knowing how dangerous their situation was, how this could turn out deadly for both or either of them, Dani still couldn’t stop herself. Her body responding to Saul’s aggressive sexual touch, moisture wept between her legs. He was turning her on.
That she felt something passionate in this awful situation was shameful.
Saul’s breath hitched, his heart raced. Gods, she was erotic. Against all his own principles, he wanted to tear the strips of fabric from her and go down on her right here, right now, who gave a fuck who watched. Teeth to nipples and neck, tongue buried deep inside her. His cock swelled, reminding him that he was man and vampire and that his control of his sexual response would be sorely tested as he continued this pretense.
Only it wasn’t pretense anymore. If he could command these events, he wanted to carry her away and fuck her until neither of them could move and both were exhaustingly satiated. Shame burned at his uncontrolled reaction.
Moist breath on his neck helped him refocus his attention.
“You want a piece of her, Saul, that’s apparent.”
Barringer leaned over Saul as he reached for Dani’s breast.
Saul nodded, using all his strength not to tear Barringer’s hand off at the wrist. “Fuck, yeah, I do. Is there a room I can take her to?”
“Ha! What, shy, Saul? You can take her right here where everyone can enjoy it, but only after I ride her. If she’s still intact by then.”
Laughter trickled across the room as Barringer leaned close and nipped at her breast, forcing her to a gasp.
Saul already knew Dani well enough to know she would never have given Barringer the satisfaction of a reaction as he bit her unless she couldn’t stop herself. His bite must have been brutal.
That was it. The last straw. His team would already be heading in after hearing Barringer’s statement, but for Saul, the idea of this pig touching her, hurting her, humiliating her, blew him from worried and pissed into blinding rage.
Going quiet and still, Saul closed his eyes as his new magic took over, welled up inside him, surging from his core, fueled by fury. When his eyes sprang open seconds later, his hands lifted from his sides and he felt a wave of magic push from him explosively, bulleting in all directions to fill the entire basement. Once the magic released, flowed from within, he felt okay. Normal again. Still quiet, shocked, Saul searched the room to see what had happened with his unrestricted outburst.
He had frozen everyone.
Barringer posed, unmoving, a finger pointing toward Dani, his hand stopped midair.
Turning to Dani to check on her, he verified that she was captured in his magic too. He walked over to her, shoving Barringer’s fingers out of his way. Lifting a hand to her, he touched her lips.
“Dani? Are you okay in there?”
Like a beautiful statue, a goddess unmoving, he couldn’t help himself, his eyes grazed over her almost naked body. The catsuit was still around her ankles, both of her full perfect breasts exposed. A battle between lowering his lips to kiss each erect nipple and doing the right thing by covering her back up finally lost to the gentleman he was.
Smiling wanly, he lifted the leather one piece and pulled it over her shoulders, slowly bringing the zipper back up, not unhappy when a finger flicked along one of her nipples. The zipper closed now, he touched her cheek.
“It’s okay now, Dani. I’m not sure how to unfreeze you, but…”
As he spoke, Saul felt a hand on his lower arm.
Relieved, Saul stepped back and caught her eyes, which sparkled.
“Thank the Gods.”
Dani moved past him to Barringer, tamping down the need to shove the knife he held into his gut.
“Motherfucker.” She spoke the word so quietly, Saul barely heard it.
He turned away. “Team, I’ve frozen the room. You can come in safely now. Especially Kwano. I need help.”
Shifting his attention to Dani again, Saul watched her expression of relief when she spied her weapons in the corner of the room. Hurrying to them, she lifted each almost lovingly and fitted them back where they belonged in pockets custom designed in the suit. Once she was finished, she lifted her head and smiled, releasing a satisfied sigh. “I felt naked without them. Truly naked.”
Snapping a strap back into place, Dani ran her hand along her recovered shock gun, back at her side within easy reach, comfortable now that she could handle anything that might come.
Her gaze moved to Saul, who’d watched her the entire time, and she’d known it, as she retrieved her weapons. Now, rejoining him, standing just a little more than a foot away, she openly surveyed him while he continued to watch her silently.
“My hero. Thank you. It wasn’t going to go well for me tonight.”
“No, I don’t think there was a chance in hell it was. I wouldn’t have let them, though.”
“You might not have had any choice. I’m grateful, Saul. I was told that you are an indomitable fighter and highly candid and honorable. It seems my intel was right. Either way, I owe you my life.”
“You owe me nothing. It’s my job to protect my crew.”
“Huh. Okay, then, so you’re back. You’re…”
Evaleigh bounded across the room, slamming into her, pulling her close. “I’m so glad we found you!”
Behind her, Sanquinetta shook her head with a smile, sauntering toward the two women. She looked over Dani’s dishabille and missing shoes. “You okay? They didn’t, uh, hurt you?”
“No. Your cavalry arrived in time. If he hadn’t, yes, I was going to go down a long bad road. They were going to take turns with me.”
Evaleigh hugged Dani again. “Let’s kill them all.”
With raised eyebrows, Sanquinetta had been watching the unmoving people. “That’s my knee-jerk reaction too, but it’s up to the vampires to vet them and decide their fates. Xavier’s rules.”
Jack gave Dani a look that let her know he would catch up with her later to let her know he was appreciative that they had rescued her before she’d been traumatized. He lifted a chin to Saul. “So you were able to do the first blood freezing thing after all.”
“I have no idea how.”
Kwano had come in last, double-checking for any stragglers that the spell might not have caught.
“It’s emotion driven. My guess is you had a big one, since you stopped an entire room full of vampires and that isn’t easy, even for a skilled first blood. Good job, Saul.”
“Yeah, well, since I have no idea how I did it, I have no idea how to un-do it.”
“I’ll show you. It’s pretty simple, but we need to decide how we’re going to manage this. This is a large number of vampires to handle at once. I’m thinking compulsion, sit them all down, then begin interrogation to decide their fates.”
“I’m here however you need me.”
“It will take more than one first blood to do this efficiently. As it is, we’ll likely be here at least a few days.”
Kwano turned to Jack. “Why don’t you take my lift-car and get the ladies home. Saul and I will sort this out and come back in his vehicle.”
“You’re sure you’ll be okay?”
“Completely. The humans, we’ll purge and send away at once. That will leave perhaps eighteen or twenty vampires to deal with. Piece of cake for two of us.”
Evaleigh shrugged. “Purge. Ignorance is bliss.”
“When it comes to knowing that vampires exist, that statement couldn’t be more true.” San looked at the three male vampires they worked with. “Sorry boys.”
Jack lifted a hand in dismissal. “We get it. I think all of us would agree as it pertains to the public. Until vampire violence touches a human’s life, ignorance truly is bliss. That’s why we purge memories so often; to give them back their sense of normalcy and safety.”
“Ain’t we just got the most awesome job? Okay, guys, let’s wrap this up and get home. Jack only has about an hour of daylight before he needs to be safely inside. Kwano, you and Saul will be safe here?”
“Snug and secure. Saul, come with me and we’ll get started.”
He didn’t have a reason to linger. Saul let his eyes stay on Dani, surprised that she’d kept hers on his; he thought she’d be too humiliated by his behavior with her to want to see him at all. He turned to join Kwano at the back of the room where they would compel vampires to stay put and humans to go home.
There was no doubt that he’d see her again, and yet, it felt wrong to let her go so quickly after protecting her from vampire assault.
Kwano took his arm. “She isn’t your job now, Saul. Come with me.”
With a single curt nod, Saul did as asked. They did have a lot of tough work ahead of them which would require all their attention, but still watched as Dani disappeared on the steps leading from the basement.
“We’re grateful you found her. It would have gone very differently if it hadn’t have been for your recognition of this vampire.”
“I am grateful too. She’s an impressive woman.”
“She is. By the scope of your ability to freeze the entire basement filled with people, I know that you had an incredible emotional reaction when that vampire threatened Dani.”
Saul didn’t answer right away. He still wondered how he’d done it. Strong emotion? Yes, he had that in abundance. An incredible emotional reaction to Dani endangered? Yeah, that was true. For whatever reason, he’d felt an odd attachment to her from the first second he saw her. And he couldn’t explain that either.
“I’m a pussy.”
“Hardly. So, let’s get this done, shall we? I know I don’t want to get stuck here any longer than we have to be. It isn’t much different than what you used to do when working with human purges. In this instance, you’ll use compulsion just as before, but this time, it will be on vampires. Using your own instincts, which I believe are good ones, you’ll compel a vampire, ask questions to determine if he or she belongs in our world. Do they accept that their powers come with responsibility and respect? If not, if you believe that once we let them go, they will harm someone, then we hold them to let Xavier make the decision on whether that life is over.”
Kwano watched Saul closely. “This isn’t an easy job for someone with a delicate nature.”
Shaking his head, Saul answered Kwano’s unspoken question. “No, it wouldn’t be. Kwano, look, I suspect you’ve surmised that your description actually fits me, but it’s only one facet of my personality. I happen to think that someone with a sensitive nature and deep convictions is exactly the type of person who should assess someone else to determine if they are worthy to live.”
Chuckling, Kwano scanned the remnants of the buffet table. “I happen to agree with you.”
“Huh. Kwano, I’d like to rejoin the team if you will have me.”
Snagging a lemon cookie, Kwano nipped off a piece.
“That’s good. A man like you is what we need. We would be honored to accept you. Now, with two first bloods, the team will be complete. Saul, welcome back.”
After they shook on the decision, Kwano glanced at him as he walked away. “The rest of the team would have kicked my ass if I’d said no.”
Smiling, Saul nodded. “We worked well together. I missed them.”
“They missed you too. They talk about you. A lot.”
That surprised Saul, that they had remembered him after he was gone. Had he found family here in this unlikely place? It was true that when he’d finished the conversion, as kind and wonderful as everyone had been in France, he’d wanted to come back here, wanted to come home.
He didn’t know what to say. Suddenly, he wished the others were here now. Jack, with his constant grin, sexy and brilliant Sanquinetta, sweet and incredibly talented Evaleigh. Even the missing member of their team, Plato, who he hoped was nearly finished healing after devastating injury in Louisiana.
“Thank you, Kwano, for welcoming me. I guess we’d better get to it, then. There’s a lot of work to do.”
“There is. As I said, it’s much like what you did before. Is this person essentially honest? Capable of empathy? Showing empathy? Do they accept that their powers come with responsibility and respect? Particularly for humans?”
Pleased, he followed Kwano’s instructions on where to start.
First, they released all the humans. One at a time, they used compulsion to find out each person’s history, how they were involved with the vampires, the length of time, decide the best way to untangle their attachment and knowledge to least interfere with their lives.
Then, Saul and Kwano purged their memories of any knowledge or time spent with vampires.
“Twenty two humans. Wow. That’s enough for tonight. We’ll put the vampires to sleep and get our own rest. Tomorrow night, we begin on this strange little nest.”
“I’m on with that. Before we turn in, someone might as well enjoy that abandoned buffet. It might as well be us.”
“I was thinking the same thing.”
With the humans gone, the basement half cleared out, the first bloods sent the remaining vampires, nineteen in all, to a corner where multiple cots and mattresses had been placed. With the command to sleep until awakened, Saul and Kwano left them to do some damage to the generous buffet tables. Before he did, Saul paused to stare at Barringer, torn between hitting him and waking him to demand how he thought his behavior was acceptable. He did neither as he joined his new team member and grabbed a large plate.
Kwano already held a high-stacked plate.
“The food is quite different here in the U.S., but I’ve grown accustomed to it. Greater variety than at home in Zambia.”
“This country has always been a melting pot of cultures, and that extends to food. What it lacks in elegance, it does indeed make up for in its diverse flavors, textures, and varieties.”
“Ah, local beer. Jack introduced me to it right after Xavier assigned me to the team full time. I have grown addicted to the flavor.”
“I enjoy it too.”
Nearly an hour later, highly satiated with food and alcohol, Kwano crashed on one of the mattresses near the other vampires.
Saul found himself wandering over to where they had held Dani. Her scent lingered on the mattress that lay beside the chair he’d first seen her seated on. Extreme exhaustion driven by approaching daylight drove him to lie full-out on it, his feet suspended over the edge. He fell asleep with Dani’s scent filling his nose and mind. The image of her standing in front of him, those beautiful breasts thrust forward, defying her fate, her soft skin on his fingers, was the last thing he remembered before he lost consciousness.