Shrouded in the dark, and half hidden behind the thick trunk of an oak tree, Russell Ryan Hankelburg carefully aligned the trajectory of his arrow to the exposed neck of Master Han. Steady, Russell reminded himself in response to the adrenaline pounding through his veins. No point in acting like a human. He wasn’t one. Han had made sure of that, and now the bastard would die for it.
For over two years, through hot, humid jungle and over cold, windblown hills, Russell had tracked his prey. Finally, in the next few seconds it would all be over. His quest for revenge. The culmination of all his rage, the vindication for all he had lost, and the sole purpose for his sorry undead existence.
The clearing where Han stood was about fifty yards away, and a dozen guards stood around the perimeter, four of them holding torches. The flames licked at the overcast night sky and flickered off the polished gold of Master Han’s mask. How many times had Russell envisioned ripping the ridiculous piece of metal off the evil vampire’s head? In the best-case scenario, he imagined tearing it off before delivering the final blow so he could watch Han’s face as the Master Bastard realized death was only seconds away.
What good was revenge if it wasn’t acknowledged? Han needed to know that it was Russell who would end his life and turn him to dust.
Han stood at the far side of the clearing, outside the wooden palisade of a camp in northern Myanmar. He was wearing a black Kevlar vest over his red silk robe to protect his heart. If Russell’s arrow failed to pierce the vest enough to kill Han, the bastard would simply teleport away.
Fortunately there was more than one way to kill a vampire. So Russell aimed at the neck instead of the heart, hoping that a ripped carotid artery would incapacitate Han enough to keep him from escaping. Then Russell could teleport straight to him, rip off the mask, and sever Han’s head with one final swing of his sword.
The dozen armed guards were probably supersoldiers, mutated by Han’s demon buddy, Darafer, and they were going to be a problem. Even so, Russell couldn’t take them out first. Their deaths would alert Han, and the cowardly cretin would teleport away like the last few times Russell had come close to killing him.
Russell gritted his teeth with impatience. So close, but still unable to shoot. Han was standing next to the kidnapped dragon shifter, practically hugging him as he taught the young captive the proper stance for drawing back a bow. With a silent curse, Russell lifted his finger off the trigger of his crossbow.
He’d seen the boy once before, so he recognized him. Since dragon shifters aged twice as fast as mortals, Xiao Fang looked about twelve years old. In mortal years, he was only six. Russell wasn’t sure what the kid’s mental age was, but he was certainly young enough to have been traumatized by recent events. Darafer had captured the dragon boy over two months ago and delivered him to Han. Since then, Russell had been spying on all thirty of Han’s camps, hoping to catch a glimpse of Han and the boy.
It was extremely rare to see Han outside one of his encampments, but apparently he’d made an exception for the boy. He was giving Xiao Fang an archery lesson and playing the role of a father figure, no doubt to win the young dragon shifter to his side.
The sad reality was that the strategy might work. Away from his home for over two months, the boy could have fallen prey to the Stockholm syndrome, so that he was now identifying with one of his captors. Master Han probably seemed the safer choice. Safer than the demon Darafer, for sure. And here was Han patting the kid on the back and giving him words of encouragement.
It made Russell’s stomach churn with disgust. For a second, he considered teleporting straight to the boy, nabbing him, and taking him to Tiger Town, where he would be safe. The good Vamps were gathered there with their allies, the were-tigers, anxiously awaiting their chance to rescue the dragon boy and defeat Master Han. One phone call and Russell could have a dozen Vamps and shifters by his side.
But wait. Han was stepping back to let Xiao Fang take his shot. It might be another two years before Russell got a chance like this. His first priority had to be killing Han. In the ensuing chaos, the boy could easily be rescued. And this situation was ideal, since Han and his supersoldiers were all standing perfectly still so as not to disturb the boy’s concentration.
Russell eased his finger back onto the trigger. Die, you bastard.
One of the guards jerked suddenly. As he fell forward onto his face, the soldier next to him stiffened with a cry, then crumbled to his knees.
What the hell? Russell barely had time to spot the knives protruding from the fallen soldiers’ backs when Han jumped on the boy, pushing him down onto the ground. A third knife whizzed past where Han had been standing, embedding itself with a thunk in a tree.
The remaining soldiers shouted, immediately drawing their swords. Han vanished, taking the dragon boy with him.
Damn it to hell! Russell fumed silently. Who were these assholes who had ruined his plans? From the speed and accuracy of the attack, he assumed there were two knife throwers. Maybe three. Whoever they were, they might have trouble escaping the superfast soldiers who were giving chase.
Not my problem, he told himself. The attackers had destroyed the best chance he’d had in a long time. If they were all murdered in the next few minutes, they would never have a chance to interfere with him again.
With a groan, he rested his head against the tree trunk. When had he become such an uncaring prick? Even though he’d been stripped of his humanity, did that mean he had to act like a heartless monster? The attackers were clearly on the same side he was. That made them allies in the war against Master Han.
Damn, but he hated having allies. As long as he was alone, he had nothing to lose.
Maybe the attackers were guys he knew, like J.L. Wang and Rajiv, and in that case, vampire J.L. would have teleported his were-tiger buddy out of danger. But knife throwing was not J.L.’s style. He would have used a rifle or handgun. And he would have wounded the soldiers instead of killing them.
If the attackers were mortal, they wouldn’t stand a chance against ten supersoldiers. An old vestige of Marine honor pricked at Russell’s undead heart. You don’t leave men behind.
“Dammit,” he muttered, hitching the leather sling of the crossbow onto his shoulder.
He levitated to the top of the tree. The soldiers were easy to spot, since four of them were still carrying torches. The four flames of light were weaving through the forest at a speed faster than any mortal could achieve.
He focused on the tree line ahead of the lights, then teleported there. Perched high in a tree, he searched the ground below for movement. Even though the sky was dark and overcast, his superior night vision spotted a runner, lean and lithe, maintaining a fast pace, but not quick enough to outdistance the soldiers.
Only one? He scanned a wide area in case the attackers had fanned out. No, only one was running. Had the others hidden themselves, leaving this one to draw away the heat? A quick glance back verified that the soldiers were gaining on him. Ten against one. It would be a slaughter.
He teleported again to get a closer look at the runner and nearly fell off the tree branch. It was a woman. Her tunic-length top was cinched tightly around her narrow waist. A thick braid of long black hair swayed back and forth as she ran.
Was she one of the warrior women of Beyul-La? They all possessed long black hair and were lean and athletic, like this woman. The warriors of Beyul-La were the guardians of the dragon shifters and had kept them hidden for centuries in a secret valley in the Himalayas. After a battle with Master Han, their valley had been destroyed. Fortunately, the remaining dragon children and eggs had been safely whisked away before the battle. No doubt the women were eager to rescue the captured boy, Xiao Fang. Russell had fought alongside the women before, so he knew how fierce they could be. This one definitely had balls, for it looked like she’d attacked Han single-handedly.
He glanced back. The ten supersoldiers were closing in. Time to slow them down. He shot an arrow at one holding a torch, and the soldier let out a yelp and fell over, his torch tumbling to the ground.
The flames quickly spread, drawing the attention of the other guards. One of them kicked the fallen soldier into the flames to smother them.
What a shithead. Russell notched another arrow into his crossbow as the fallen soldier thrashed and screamed. A second later, his arrow put the burning soldier out of his misery, and three seconds later, another arrow took out the shithead.
“It’s an ambush!” one of the supersoldiers yelled as he dove behind a tree.
The other soldiers scrambled for cover and quickly extinguished the torches. A dark, tense silence fell over the forest.
Russell readied another arrow, waiting for one of the eight remaining soldiers to venture out. A quick glance toward the woman, and he groaned inwardly. Instead of running, she’d crouched behind some bushes. His sudden appearance must have confused her. She was breathing heavily, twisting this way and that in a frantic attempt to discern his location.
Just run away, he pleaded with her silently. I have this covered.
From her belt, she pulled out a knife. Apparently she was afraid to trust him. He couldn’t blame her. If you trusted no one, you tended to live longer.
He turned his attention back to the eight soldiers. On the far left, one darted to the cover of another tree, too quickly for Russell to take him out. He aimed an arrow at him, waiting for him to make another move. Meanwhile, to the right, another soldier dashed to a tree. The group was obviously trying to surround the woman, and eventually they would if she didn’t make a run for it.
The guy to the far left made another move, and this time, Russell wounded him in the shoulder. He was still alive, but his sword arm would be useless.
Rustling sounds emanated from bushes and trees as the remaining seven soldiers attempted to encircle their prey. The woman slipped her knife back into its sheath, then leaped from her crouch into a full sprint. Russell paused a second, amazed by her speed and grace, but quickly came to when he realized the soldiers were dashing after her. He shot one with an arrow, then noticed another aiming a pistol in his direction. Just as the sound of gunfire echoed through the woods, he teleported away and landed in a tree ahead of the woman.
The six remaining soldiers were gaining on her fast. Enough of this nonsense. Just get her out of here.
He jumped down to the base of the tree. Hidden behind it, he could hear her approaching. Her steps were light, as if she barely needed the ground, but her breathing was louder and tinged with panic. He stepped out, directly into her path.
Her night vision was excellent, for she spotted him immediately and skidded to a stop so fast that she fell back onto her rump.
Russell lifted his empty hands to show her he meant no harm, but within a second, she was back on her feet with her knife drawn and pointed at him. Once again, he was amazed by her speed and gracefulness.
“Friend,” he whispered in Chinese. Her face was partially blocked by her raised knife, and he tilted his head to get a better look.
She pivoted to check on the soldiers behind her. When Russell stepped closer, she whipped around to face him.
He blinked. She was stunning. And not one of the warrior women of Beyul-La. If he’d ever met this woman before, he would have remembered her.
Her golden eyes widened as she looked him over.
Who the hell was she? “Friend,” he repeated and motioned to the crossbow on his shoulder. “I helped you.”
She sheathed her knife but retained her grip on the handle. Apparently she wasn’t ready to completely trust him. Smart girl. He was still tempted to wring her neck.
The glint of metal behind a bush caught his eye and he grabbed her, pulling her behind the tree with vampire speed as a knife whooshed toward them. With his back pressed against the trunk, he felt the tree shudder with the knife’s impact.
“Let me go,” the woman whispered, tugging at his grip.
He considered complying. After all, she wasn’t his problem. And she’d destroyed the best chance he’d had at killing Han in over two years.
I am not responsible for her, he thought, but he made the mistake of looking at her. Big, golden eyes, flickering with emotion. A beautiful face, vibrant and alive. Delicate, but determined. He had a feeling she was near panic but holding it together with sheer willpower and courage. Something twisted in his undead heart.
I’m going to regret this. He tightened his hold on her, then teleported, taking her with him.
As soon as Jia felt solid ground beneath her feet, she pulled away from the man’s grip. It was dark, too dark to see, even with her excellent night vision.
“Careful,” the man said in Chinese. His accent was odd and his voice gruff, as if he didn’t speak often.
She pulled her knife from its sheath, ready to strike if he attacked her. From his scent and the fact that he’d teleported, she knew he was a vampire, but he might be a good one, like her friends Jin Long and Dou Gal. This man seemed to be on her side, but when it came to vampires, appearances could be deceiving. Until she’d met the good Vamps, she’d thought they were all evil.
“Don’t move,” the man grumbled. “I’ll light up the place so you can see.”
The decreasing volume of his voice indicated he was moving away from her. Jia took a deep breath, attempting to quell the panic that had seized her when the two soldiers had fallen dead from her knives. They were the enemy, she reminded herself. Anyone who stood in the way of her mission had to be removed. Nothing could stop her from killing Han.
She’d trained since the age of eight, learning martial arts with the boys of Tiger Town and then in private, throwing countless knives at straw targets until her speed and accuracy had become as good as any man’s. But bundles of straw never cried out in pain and bled to death. Thirteen years of practice had not prepared her for the grim reality of war.
She had thought she was ready for death, even her own. As a were-tiger, she had nine lives, and advancing on to her second life would give her a much-needed strategic advantage. It would allow her to shift any time and anywhere. If she’d been able to shift tonight, she could have easily defeated her foe.
But once the soldiers had charged after her, the prospect of dying at their hands had terrified her. What if they chopped up her dead body, so she couldn’t come back? That was what Han had done to her parents and brother.
A vision of her mutilated family swept across her mind, followed by the memory of the two soldiers she’d killed tonight. With a shudder, she shoved the images aside. She needed to get a hold of herself and focus on her current situation.
Location unknown. Vampire captor unknown.
She flexed her hand on the knife handle. “Who are you?”
He didn’t answer.
Since she couldn’t see, she used her other heightened senses to detect her location. A strong, earthy smell surrounded her. The air was warm and humid, similar to the Yunnan province where Tiger Town was located. Water was moving nearby, the trickling sound pleasant to her ears. She picked up the warbling call of a bird, muffled and distant. Outdoors, but no sky overhead. A cave?
Why had the vampire brought her here?
Two months ago, when the good Vamps had gone to battle to defend the valley of Beyul-La, they had all traveled through Tiger Town, and they had returned there each day to do their death-sleep. Her cousin Rajiv, the Grand Tiger, had gone to battle, too, along with her uncles Rinzen and Tenzen. She’d been left behind to rule in her cousin’s stead, so while she’d played princess of Tiger Town, she’d met dozens of good Vamps.
This vampire had not been with them.
“Who are you?” Jia asked again, taking another step back.
“Don’t move,” he repeated. A flame appeared at the end of a pistol-looking device, and then the wick of a camping-style oil lamp lit up.
A golden circle of light shone around the lamp, illuminating the profile of the man leaning over it. Whoever this vampire was, he was certainly handsome. She’d noticed that before in the forest. Strong features, strong body. All the good Vamps she’d met were strong and good looking, but this man was different. The good Vamps were usually well dressed, well groomed, and well behaved. Polite, friendly, and respectful. She doubted any of them would kidnap a young woman and take her to a dark cave.
This vampire had a rough, primitive look about him. His khaki pants were torn in a few places. His knee-length brown coat was old and shabby. Dark stubble shaded his square jaw. Some of his hair had come loose from his short ponytail, and he’d hooked the strands behind his ears. At first, his hair appeared brown, but the longer she stared, the more she detected light copper streaks that gleamed in the golden lamplight. American, maybe? Or British?
Why was he in China? What did he want from her? Was he hungry and expected to feed from her? She lifted her knife and took another step back.
Kerplunk. Her foot plopped into cool water up to her shin. She quickly regained her balance and moved her foot back onto dry land. Unfortunately, some water had seeped into her ankle-high hiking boot. Damn, she hated wet socks.
“Told you not to move,” he muttered.
She glared at him. “You could have warned me about the lake.”
“It’s not a lake. And I don’t explain myself.” He gave her an annoyed look that made her blink at the intensity of it.
He was angry with her? More than angry. His brown eyes seethed with controlled rage. Great. She’d been kidnapped by a pissed-off vampire.
He moved away from the light, and soon, he’d lit two more lamps.
She pivoted to look around, her sodden leather boot squishing as she moved. They were definitely underground. The walls were solid rock, and part of the ceiling high overhead was stone. The rest of the ceiling was a tangled mass of earth and tree roots. In places, long strands of green ivy dangled down into the cave.
As far as she could tell, they were just below the surface. Tiny cracks here and there let in damp, fresh air, and brilliant green moss clung to the tree roots and rock ceiling.
She was standing on the sandy shore of an underground stream. On the far side of the stream, she spotted a narrow strand of sand, then a smooth wall of rock. No exit there. The cave was narrow and long, following the path of the stream. It was a beautiful place, what with the green moss and tendrils of ivy overhead, and the soothing sound of moving water.
To the right, where the cave’s ceiling was solid rock, she spotted a dark alcove. Inside were some wooden crates, set side by side to form a rectangle. Stacked on top were several open sleeping bags and a blanket. His bed.
This was his home. She glanced back at him. He was levitating up to a tree root with gnarly stems that protruded like fingers. There, he hooked the leather slings of his crossbow and quiver of arrows. He dropped neatly to the ground, then walked a few steps to a foldout camp table.
He emptied the deep pockets of his coat, placing four knives, a phone, two handguns, and extra ammunition on the table. Then he unbuckled a sword belt and set his sheathed sword on the table. Apparently he wasn’t worried about her attacking, for he was completely disarming himself.
She pivoted once more to examine his home. He had quite a collection of camping gear: oil lanterns, two ice chests, two foldout tables. He’d built a makeshift bookcase with cinder blocks and planks of wood. Neatly folded clothing was stacked on the bottom two shelves. The top shelf held an assortment of books and electronic gadgets. How did he power them? A thick wire snaked up the rock wall and disappeared among some tree roots. Interesting. His cave might not be as primitive as she’d first thought.
Far to the right, past his bedroom, the underground stream disappeared into a rock tunnel. He’d situated an old-fashioned tin bathtub on the sandy shore with a spigot that extended over the water. Hanging from a hook rammed into the rock ceiling was a large bucket with a long chain. His version of a shower, she assumed. Close by there was a foldout wooden rack where he’d stretched out his laundry to dry. For a guy who lived in a cave, he appeared to be rather neat and tidy.
“Who are you?” His deep voice rumbled behind her, tingling the skin at the back of her neck.
She turned and her jaw dropped. He’d taken off his bulky coat and tossed it on the table. That one move had transformed him from an anonymous hobo into a gorgeous superhero. His dark green T-shirt stretched over incredibly wide shoulders. The worn, faded material clung to every contour of his muscled chest and abdomen before tapering to his narrow hips. He folded his arms over his chest, and she thought his sleeves might rip from failing to accommodate the size of his biceps.
The tingle on her neck skittered down her spine. It wasn’t just his muscles that were affecting her. It was something more. His presence. It seemed to fill the cave and, worse, fill her senses, leaving her with no doubt that this man was powerful, intelligent, and perhaps even dangerous.
She swallowed hard. “Who are you?”
“You know what I am.”
“A vampire, yes. But I haven’t figured out yet if you’re one of the good ones.”
“Neither have I.” His mouth twisted with a wry look. “I take it you’ve met the good ones?”
She nodded. “Jin Long, Dou Gal, Angus, and some others. Do you know them?”
“Yes. How do you know them?”
She ignored his question. “Then you’re on their side?”
“Only when it suits me.” He pulled a bottle of blood from an ice chest and opened it. “I won’t feed from you, if that’s what you’re worried about.” He took a long drink.
That was good news. She sheathed her knife.
He set the bottle down and frowned at her. “You pissed me off.”
Her hand shot back to the handle of her knife.
He snorted. “I’m not going to hurt you. Not after going to the trouble of saving your pretty ass.”
She narrowed her eyes. “I have excellent aim, so I suggest you rephrase that.”
He finished his bottle, then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “You’re right. ‘Pretty’ was an insult. I’d say your ass is damned beautiful—” When she pulled her knife from its sheath, he scoffed. “I rescued you, and you’re going to kill me? You should be thanking me.”
She pointed the weapon at him. “You brought me here against my will.”
“Would you prefer I take you back? I could drop you off at Han’s camp and let them capture you.” He took a step toward her, his scowl deepening. “What the hell were you thinking, taking on a dozen supersoldiers single-handedly? Are you trying to get yourself killed? Don’t you have family somewhere worried about you?”
The vision of her mutilated family flitted through her mind once more. With an inward groan, she lowered her arm. “Just tell me where the exit is, and I’ll be on my way.”
“There is no exit. I teleport you in or out.”
And he would control where they went? She motioned to the stream. “I’ll follow the water. I’m sure it surfaces at some point.”
“Yes, after going through a rock tunnel for a mile or so. Your body would emerge eventually. Dead.”
Jia bit her lip, her gaze wandering to the stream where it disappeared into the tunnel. If she drowned, she wouldn’t have to worry about being hacked to pieces. Her skin pebbled with goose bumps as she imagined those last terrifying moments when she would run out of air—
“What the hell?” he whispered, and she turned to face him. “You’re considering it, aren’t you? You’re suicidal.” He strode toward her.
She lifted her knife. “Stay back!”
He vanished. Before she could even react, he grabbed her from behind. His left arm encircled her rib cage and pulled her hard against his chest. His right hand wrenched the knife from her hand and tossed it aside.
So incredibly fast. And strong. Self-doubt crept into her mind once again, reminding her how difficult it was going to be to kill Master Han on her own. As a vampire, Han was just as strong and fast as this one who was pinning her against his rock-hard chest.
“Release me.” Her breath caught as his hand groped along her belted waist.
“Any more knives? Do I need to frisk you?”
“Let me go!”
“I will. Eventually.” His chin grazed the top of her head. “I haven’t decided yet what to do with you.”
She swallowed hard. There was no way she could overpower this man. And even if she did, where could she go? The only way out of this cave was the stream. And death.
His cheek slid along her hair till she felt his breath, hot against her ear. Hot? Shouldn’t a vampire be cold? His whiskered jaw scraped across her cheek. She tilted her head away from him, but that only served to give him better access to her throat. He buried his nose in the crook of her neck, and she shuddered.
“You have the scent of a shifter.” With his right hand, he took hold of her jaw and turned her face toward him. “And the golden eyes of a tiger.”
Her gaze met his, and for a few seconds she forgot to breathe. His stare was bold and fierce, as if he was trying to look into her soul. His eyes were not solid brown, as she’d thought, but hazel, with shards of gold and green shimmering among the brown.
There was something so . . . sincere about his eyes and expression. Instinctively, she felt he was solid and honest. A man who said and did what he felt was right and never apologized for it.
His gaze lowered to her mouth, then returned to her eyes. “Shall I teleport you back to Tiger Town?”
“No!” She pulled away, surprised for a second that he let her go. “I can’t go back there. Anywhere but there.”
He smirked. “So you admit that is your home.”
“Yes, but I can’t go back before my mission is done.”
“Your family must be worried sick—”
“My family is dead! My parents and brother, hacked to pieces by Master Han. I won’t stop until I’ve killed him.”
The vampire stiffened. “You will not kill Han.”
“I will! I swore I would avenge my family—”
“You’re not killing Han!” the vampire yelled. “I am!”
Jia paused a moment, stunned by the vampire’s words and the ferocious look on his face. “Why do you want—”
“I don’t explain myself,” he growled and took a step toward her. “I was so close to killing Han tonight. I had a clear shot at his neck, and you ruined it.”
She stepped back. “You—”
“Two years of tracking that bastard, and you screwed it up!”
She winced. No wonder he was pissed. “I didn’t know.”
“You know nothing about warfare! You can’t attack his guards first. He just teleports away.”
“I realize that now. I’ll do better next—”
“There is no next time for you. Killing Han is my job, and you will stay out of it!”
Jia’s breath caught when she realized who this vampire must be. How many times had she heard Jin Long and her cousin complain about him? Angus kept sending them on missions to find him, and somehow, he always eluded them.
What was his name? He seemed like a legend, the way people gossiped about him. Some said he was dangerous; others called him a hero. According to her cousin, he’d cut the tracking chip out of his arm and disappeared two years ago, vowing to kill Master Han. A few times, when Rajiv and Jin Long had found themselves surrounded by Han’s soldiers, this vampire had miraculously appeared and rescued them.
Just like he’d rescued her tonight. “I know who you are. You’re the—the—”
“The deserter?” he growled. “Do they say I’m crazy?”
“No! Of course not.” She winced inwardly. This was not the time to admit that Rajiv called him “The Crazy One.” And Jin Long claimed he was a loose cannon. She searched her mind for something good they’d said about him. “They say you’re the best tracker in the world.”
He stared at her a moment, then looked away, shifting his weight as if he didn’t know how to respond.
He’s not used to compliments, she thought, and her heart softened. What a lonesome man he had to be. But so wonderfully dedicated to his cause. She inhaled sharply as an idea popped into her mind. “I know what to do. We’ll work together!”
He blinked. “No.”
“Yes!” It was a brilliant solution, so brilliant that she felt a surge of confidence that she could easily convince him. “It’s perfect! We have the same goal, so all we have to do is team up to defeat our common foe.”
“In fact, I think fate has brought us together for this purpose.”
He hesitated, a stunned look on his face.
Yes! He was coming around. The more she thought about this new idea, the more excited she became. She’d always known it would be difficult to kill Han, but when she’d asked her uncles, Rinzen and Tenzen, to help her, they had refused. And then, to make matters worse, they’d reported her plan to her cousin, and Rajiv had forbidden her to go. Vengeance should be left to the male were-tigers, Rajiv had told her. As the resident princess in Tiger Town, it was her job to play hostess and perform the tea ceremony for their visitors. She’d been sorely tempted to tell Rajiv what he could do with the ceremonial teapot.
“As a vampire, you can do all the levitating and teleporting,” she continued. “And I’ll do whatever needs to be done during the day. I can even guard you while you’re in your death-sleep.”
He shook his head. “I don’t need a guard. No one knows about this place.”
He snorted. “You have no idea where we are.”
“That’s even better! No one should know the location of our secret hideout.”
“Yes!” She grinned, delighted that he was agreeing. “And you needn’t worry that I won’t pull my weight. I know martial arts, and you’ve seen how well I throw knives.”
“I work alone.”
She waved a dismissive hand. “I realize you’re stuck in a rut over that, but it’s time for you to be daring enough to try something new. We have to be bold in order to succeed.”
He gave her an incredulous look. “Are you calling me a coward?”
“Of course not. I’m just saying we’ll be more efficient as a team. Take tonight, for example. If I had known your plans ahead of time, I wouldn’t have interfered.” She gave him an encouraging smile. “We should start right now tracking down Master Han. You know where his camps are, right? Let’s go!”
“I think we should go.” The vampire grabbed hold of her arms.
Yes! They were a team! “Shouldn’t you arm yourself—” She stopped when everything went black.
When her feet hit solid ground, she pulled away from him and looked around her. Oh, God, no.
They were in the courtyard of Tiger Town. Torches lit up the perimeter, and dozens of armed male were-tigers were standing nearby. They all stared at her in shock. Her heart sank in dismay.
“Jia!” Rajiv ran toward her. “Where have you been?”
“What have you done?” she hissed at the vampire. “I told you not to bring me here.”
Rajiv stopped in front of her. “Jia, what happened? You left seven days ago to see my brother in Thailand, and then today I get a call from him that you never arrived! I was about to send out search parties for you.”
The vampire smirked. “I thought you might be worried about her.”
“Russell!” Rajiv shook his hand. “Thank you for bringing back my cousin.”
Russell? So that was the vampire’s name. Jia glared at him. It could take her weeks to find Han again. And now that Rajiv knew what she was up to, she’d have a hard time escaping Tiger Town.
“Cousin?” Russell gave her a wary look. “You’re in the royal family?”
She was royally pissed. Before she could answer, Rajiv cut in.
“She’s our resident princess,” he explained. “We are indebted to you for bringing her back safely.”
Russell’s face went cold. Without looking at her, he muttered, “I’ll be going then.”
“You’re leaving me here?” Anger spiked in her chest. “We have the same goal. I thought you understood me. I thought I could trust you.”
His mouth thinned. “You thought wrong.”
She pulled her arm back and slapped him hard across the face.