The streetlights played over the sidewalks and alleys as Killean stalked an outlying area of Boston for his prey. The prey he was hunting had left his rundown building ten minutes ago. The man may be some of the worst the human race had to offer, but still hesitant to take this irrevocable step, Killean hung back from going after him.
Now he was stalking the man through this downtrodden area of the city where he spent more time avoiding rats, feces, and garbage than he did people. Boards covered most of the windows of the dilapidated buildings.
Killean stepped to the side to avoid a yellow food wrapper the wind blew across the broken sidewalk. It caught on a chain-link fence and flapped in the breeze. The crinkling of the paper was the only sound on this forsaken stretch of night-drenched land.
Shoving his hands in his pockets to ward off the unusual chill in the mid-May night, Killean’s thoughts drifted to the letter he’d left for Ronan only hours ago. With that letter, he’d most likely severed his bonds to the only family and friends he’d had for centuries, but though he tried not to think about them, his written words replayed in his mind on an endless loop.
My mate is one of the hunters taken by Joseph and his Savages. I’ve tried to leave her to her fate, but I can’t. What we’re doing isn’t working, and we both know it won’t. The only way I’m going to find her is to go into their world. It’s the only chance I have of saving her.
I WILL come back from this.
And he would come back from this, somehow. He didn’t care what it took; he would not become one of the monsters he’d spent his entire life hunting and destroying.
But the only way to find her is to become a monster.
That was true, but he would do whatever was necessary to enter the world of the Savages and find his mate. And he would be strong enough to pull himself back from the killing once he located her. He didn’t let any doubt of that creep into his mind; if he did, he wouldn’t be able to go through with this, and then his mate would be lost forever.
He shuddered as he recalled the beautiful hunter with her clover-colored eyes and shining auburn hair pulled into a bun. He’d never wanted to encounter his mate; he far preferred life alone and not having a woman interfering in it. However, he’d always figured that if he did stumble upon her one day, he would merely avoid her and not complete the bond.
After encountering his mate, he’d done well at avoiding Simone as she made things easy on him when she split off from Nathan’s faction of hunters and left with another group. As far as he was concerned, it was good riddance until Joseph captured her.
Then no matter how much he didn’t want a mate and certainly not a hunter one, he knew he couldn’t leave her to the fate Joseph intended for her. He was a selfish bastard, but he could never live with himself if he didn’t try to save her from Joseph’s nefarious clutches, even if she was a hunter.
His life had been far from easy, but being saddled with a hunter mate was one of the cruelest blows fate ever dealt him. At least the horrors in his past had ended; this one could last for an eternity as he assumed that Joseph, or one of his Savages, already turned her into a vampire.
If she’d remained mortal for a few more years, or married another hunter, Killean didn’t know how he would have reacted to that knowledge, but he’d been determined to let her live out her mortal life, far from his immortal one. Then Joseph went and fucked up his plans.
And now Simone was most likely a vampire.
The reminder she’d probably been turned by someone else caused his hands to clench until the veins in his forearms stood out. Not only had the Savages most likely changed her, but they’d probably done so in the most excruciating way possible and thrived on her agony as well as her powerful, hunter blood.
He wouldn’t have turned her; he would never have let their bond progress that far, but the idea of someone else doing it made him want to tear the heads from every pathetic human scurrying past him.
Depending on how far Joseph’s cruel transition of vampires into Savages had progressed with Simone, it could already be too late to save her. She could already be a Savage. Plus, from what he’d seen of the pristine little hunter, he doubted she’d be able to survive what Joseph and the Savages would do to her with her sanity intact. She’d reminded him of a doll when they first met; he imagined she was a broken one by now, but he still had to try and save her.
Turn around. It’s not too late for you. There is no reason you should sacrifice everything you’ve known for a woman you kissed once and whose kind you despise.
His steps slowed until he stopped. A thin woman pushing a shopping cart that clattered in and out of the cracks nearly crashed into him. She gave him the finger and cursed him with a mixture of English and some other language that he couldn’t quite place before shoving her cart around him.
Standing in the middle of the sidewalk, Killean considered what he was doing. He owed Simone nothing. Their relationship hadn’t progressed to a point where he would be lost without her. He could live out the rest of his life without her and remain the same, or nearly the same, as he’d felt like crawling out of his skin since their kiss.
At night, his dreams were plagued by the beautiful hunter and the things he wanted to do to her. Their kiss had been the first time in nearly a hundred years a woman aroused him. His dreams had left him hard and on the verge of climbing out of bed to search for her. He spent the rest of those nights lying in bed, cursing himself, fate, and her.
Then she was taken, and the dreams stopped because he barely slept anymore. In the time since they captured her, he’d done nothing more than pass out for fitful bouts of sleep before rising to search for her again. Worry consumed him for a woman he didn’t know.
Their relationship hadn’t progressed far, and he may be able to go on for centuries without her, but he could never forsake his mate to a fate worse than death.
But sacrificing yourself for her?
He didn’t know what else to do or how else to get her back. In the week since Joseph captured the hunters, the Alliance had hunted for them, but they’d smacked into nothing but dead ends. There was still a chance Killean could save her from becoming a Savage, but if she stayed with Joseph much longer, that chance would vanish.
That knowledge propelled him into motion once more.
Fuck! He owed Simone nothing, yet he continued until he tracked down the human he sought in an alleyway. Killean slid away from the dim glow of the streetlights to stand in the shadows cast by the two buildings while he watched the human he’d marked for death.
This man and nine others were on his list of possible victims. He didn’t plan to kill them all before seeking out Joseph, but he wanted options if it did become necessary for him to kill so many.
Once he decided this was the course of action he would take to find Simone, he spent a few hours yesterday researching some of the worst of humanity. This man, Arlo Holt, was arrested for rape five days ago. It was his sixth arrest for the crime, and yesterday, it was the sixth time his victim dropped the charges. Killean didn’t know what Arlo did to those women to get them to change their minds, but he suspected it was nothing good.
And those were only the six women who reported him, Killean was sure there were more who hadn’t. Not only was rape one of Arlo’s favorite pastimes, but he also had a penchant for assault and battery, robbery, drug possession, drug dealing, and DUIs.
If he had to kill, then Killean would at least keep it to the worst forms of human life. It was a small piece of twisted, moral judgment—and he was the last vampire who should be passing judgment on anyone—but he could live with himself if he stuck to men such as Arlo.
Arlo spoke in a low whisper with a young kid who resembled a walking skeleton instead of a human being. They stood between two dumpsters overflowing with trash and rats that didn’t care about the presence of the humans. The skeleton handed Arlo some money and received a small bag of white substance in return.
The skeleton slunk away with his head bowed. Arlo started toward Killean and was nearly on top of him before he realized Killean was there. The man, in his mid-twenties, came to an abrupt halt when he spotted Killean.
“I’m closed for the night, buddy,” Arlo’s racing heart belied the bravado of his tone.
“I’m not here for what you’re selling,” Killean replied.
Arlo’s hand fell to the gun tucked into the waistband of his jeans. Killean followed his movements, but he didn’t try to stop him from pulling the gun. He didn’t care about the weapon; he was far more interested in Arlo’s blood.
His fangs throbbed as his gaze fell to the vein in the side of the man’s neck. He regularly fed on humans, but this was the first time he’d be able to let go of all the restraint he’d kept himself under for over four hundred years. The first time he could give in to the impulse to kill that had obsessed him for most of his life.
Before Simone haunted his dreams, graphic images of murder, death, and copious amounts of blood sliding down his throat had filled them. He’d woken from them drenched in a cold sweat, with his fangs fully extended, and his fingers digging into the mattress to keep himself from launching out of bed, fleeing into the night, and slaughtering every human he came across.
On those nights, his dreams were so vivid that he woke with the coppery scent of blood in his nostrils. Over the centuries, they’d nearly hurled him to the brink of madness more times than he could recall, but because of Ronan, and the mission he’d accepted when he joined with Ronan, Killean somehow kept himself from unleashing his murderous impulses.
But tonight, if he went through with this, he wouldn’t have to restrain himself anymore. In his life, the only thing that excited him more than this knowledge was the kiss he’d shared with Simone.
It could already be too late for her. You don’t have to do this.
But as he thought it, he knew there was no other recourse.
“Hey, asshole, get out of my way,” Arlo said and waved his gun at Killean.
Killean seized Arlo by his shirt and propelled him into the brick wall of the nearby building.
“What the fuck, man?” Arlo complained, and lifting his gun, he pressed it against Killean’s chest.
Before Arlo could pull the trigger, Killean gripped the barrel and wrenched the gun from his grasp. Arlo’s eyes rolled as sweat beaded his forehead and he squirmed in Killean’s grasp. The rapist and drug dealer punched Killean in the cheek.
Killean could have dodged or blocked the blow, but he gladly took it, and the next one Arlo delivered. The punch of a human was nowhere near as strong as the many he’d received from Savages over the years, but he welcomed the blows. He planned to end this man’s life, the least he could do was take a few punches from him.
“Get off me, man!” Arlo yelled.
“Calm down,” Killean commanded as he allowed his ability to manipulate the minds of others to slide free; Arlo’s struggles eased when Killean took control of him.
Killean breathed in the scent of Arlo’s blood. Unlike his customers, drugs didn’t taint Arlo’s blood, and the coppery tang of his blood called to Killean. His fangs lengthened and saliva filled his mouth as his heart raced with excitement. Killing Arlo would finally set him free of the constant struggle dominating his life since he became a fully matured vampire at twenty-four.
Don’t do this! You can find another way!
The tiny piece of conscience he still had pleaded with him, but his conscience had never been much guidance in his life. His loyalty to Ronan, and his mission to destroy Savages had kept him on the straight and narrow, until now.
Ronan. His friend, his mentor, and the man who had saved his life more times than Killean could recall. The man who would ruthlessly hunt Killean and strike him down for choosing this path.
I will come back.
No one has ever come back from being a Savage before.
And no one has ever endured the things I have and survived before; if anyone can do this, I can.
“Easy,” Killean said when Arlo started to thrash again.
He’d inadvertently pulled back his control over Arlo while wrestling with this decision and asserted it again. He may be about to step over the threshold from vampire to Savage, but he wouldn’t inflict unnecessary suffering on another, at least not yet. Who knew what he would do after he killed, but for now, he would retain this piece of his barely there humanity.
Realizing he was going around in circles with himself and he couldn’t stand here all night, Killean pushed Arlo’s head to the side and sank his fangs into the man’s throat. Arlo remained unmoving and unaware of what Killean was doing as he eagerly consumed the blood until Arlo’s pulse weakened.
Killean’s fangs almost retracted as he neared the line between what he was and what he would become. Then Simone’s eucalyptus scent, and the sweet taste of her lips, danced across his memory. His mate was trapped and being abused. This man’s life was nothing compared to hers.
And who are you to judge that?
I am no one. I stopped being someone when I was a child.
But for those few seconds, while he stood on the beach with Simone in his arms, he’d been someone again. For the first time since he was seven years old and his world fell apart, he’d felt as if he finally belonged somewhere, and that was with her.
No matter he despised her hunter blood, no matter he would never claim her as his mate, he couldn’t abandon her to Joseph.
Instead of stopping, Killean bit deeper and Arlo sagged against him. Arlo’s heart thudded, stopped, thudded again, and then gave one more limp beat before ceasing.
A moment of panic descended over Killean as he irrevocably stepped away from his old life and into this far more turbulent and uncertain one. Who and what would he become now?
He would return from this, but he didn’t kid himself into believing he could ever be the man he’d been before committing this act. This death of a human would forever change him, but what it would transform him into remained to be seen.
The panic vanished when power unlike anything he ever experienced rushed over Killean and the last of Arlo’s life filled him.
Gasping, Killean pulled back to stare into Arlo’s sightless blue eyes. Guilt tore at his insides as he released the man and let the body slump to the ground.
But despite the self-hatred and uncertainty battering his brain, he gathered Arlo’s body, disposed of it, and went in search of the next name on his list.
One victim would not be enough to make him a Savage.