Vampires Dead Ahead
ONE"Another Tracker is missing." Rodán set his wineglass on the white tablecloth of our table for two in the exclusive paranorm hot spot Some Other Place. "Kennedy appears to be gone."The hum and buzz of the restaurant and bar filled the pause as I digested Rodán's statement. Another Tracker?A busboy stopped by our table and cleared our dinner dishes after asking if we were finished. I waited until he was gone before I responded to Rodán."Kennedy, from Seattle?" I frowned as I spoke. "Any idea what happened to him?"Rodán slowly shook his head. "The Proctor Directorate's investigation teams have found nothing.""That makes how many?" I asked."One Proctor along with eight Trackers." Rodán's handsome Elvin features remained amazingly impassive, his crystal-green eyes betraying no emotion as he spoke."What does the GG have to say about it?" I asked.Rodán looked thoughtful. "The Great Guardian has other matters that concern her at this time.""More important than the disappearance of paranorms who are important to the safety of this world?" The GG drove me crazy in the ways she chose to "help.""It is not for us to decide where her attention is best suited, Nyx." Rodán was gentle yet firm in his statement."I'm having a hard time believing what's happening." I shook my head, and my cobalt-blue hair tickled shouldersbared by my strapless Versace minidress. "There's something very wrong going on." A brilliant understatement.Rodán gave a deep nod. "Exceptionally so," he said, making me wonder for a moment if he meant my understatement.I shuddered at my next thought. "Unless Zombies are back.""We are well and rid of Zombies, Nyx." Just hearing Rodán say "Zombies" made me shudder again. It had only been a few months since we'd faced the threat, but it seemed like it had been days ago."Desmond thinks we're rid of them permanently." The silk of my dress slid across my thighs in a soft caress as I crossed my legs at my knees. My light amethyst skin contrasted with the black material of my dress. "I do have faith in him.""As do I." Rodán took another sip of his Chardonnay and I watched the play of muscles in his arm, beneath his golden skin. "Which is why I planned to speak of Desmond with you."I cocked my head. "What about him did you want to discuss with me?""The Great Guardian and I have spoken." Rodán leaned forward, his forearms resting on the tablecloth. "I intend to offer the Sorcerer a position as a Night Tracker."Surprise made me blink. First of all, Rodán never told me about his choices for Night Tracker candidates. Second ... Desmond?"Desmond has qualities that would benefit our team," I said. "He isn't the sword-and-dagger type, though."A slight smile curved Rodán's lips. "Indeed he is not. He has other talents that would serve him well."I smiled, too. "I am not being negative, Rodán. The thought just caught me off guard. I actually think Desmond would make a terrific addition. Providing you can convince him to join the Trackers.""That may be a challenge." Rodán gave a nod of acknowledgment, his long white-blond hair shimmering beneath the low lights with the movement and revealing the points of his ears. "Desmond has been a loner, but after seeing whathe and the Trackers did together to strike down his enemy, Amory, I know the difference he can make with us.""Ah." I sipped my Chardonnay. "I wondered why you were telling me about a candidate. You never have before.""That will potentially change, Nyx." Rodán's expression grew more serious. "I want you to take a larger leadership role."I stilled and set my wineglass down. "More than being in charge of special teams?""Yes." Rodán studied me. "You have proven yourself to be an effective leader. You are respected by others, and you have a charisma about you which is not learned. You were born with it," he said. "You will still primarily track but you would be involved in more strategy development, training processes, and team assignments."Surprise kept me from speaking as he continued."I am not considering you full-time in another position by any means," Rodán said as he continued to study me. "However, having more responsibility in the overoperations will make better use of your skills."When I finally found my ability to speak, I said, "I had no idea you thought of me this way."Rodán's gaze was focused, intent, as if he was evaluating even my response. "As a Night Tracker you have already provided balanced leadership, and your judgment is sound."I am thinking of one behavior, however, that must change," he added. "This has nothing to do with my feelings for you outside of being your Proctor.""Okay." My words were slow and deliberate. After what had happened during the Zombie op, I was wary of what he might say. "What in your opinion do I need to work on in relation to the soundness of my judgment?""The only caution I have, you have heard before," Rodán said. "You are an exceptional Tracker. However, at times you have had no regard for your own personal safety. You need to think through what is best overall, before you jump into certain situations."For example," he continued, "too often you have charged forward without waiting for backup. It has almost cost you your life on more than one occasion. An effective leader needs to remain alive or he or she cannot be effective. Do you agree?"I wanted in some way to fire back that I'd done what I'd had to. As a Drow princess, I was raised around warriors. I had trained as a warrior myself. Dark Elves don't sit back and watch, they act. But I knew Rodán was right.With an inward sigh, I brought my fingers to the collar I'd worn to favor my father. When I considered the last operations, I had to admit Rodán was right. I'd put myself into some pretty bad situations, including getting injected by a deadly virus. Dark Elves are aggressive fighters, but they still lay battle plans and work as a team.My restraint, to a point, during the last case may have had more to do with my team than me. They had been adamant that I not charge in on my own without them like I had during previous ops. They'd been right, and I'd known it."Yes," I said, "that's fair. It's not easy for me, though. It's my nature to give it everything I have, despite the dangers, but I understand what you're saying.""Consider what I have to say." Rodán wore a serious expression. "I believe you above all those others you track with have the skills necessary to lead the entire team. Under my guidance, of course. I don't have all the details worked out, but I wanted you to know what I was thinking for your future."Wow. I took a deep breath. "It means a lot that you have so much confidence in me and my abilities.""You have earned it." Rodán steepled his hands on the tabletop. "Time and time again on operations you have been assigned to you have proven to be an exceptional leader. I only have the one concern.""I think I understand." I clasped my hands in my lap. "But I'm not management material. You know me--I can't sit back and watch.""I would never expect you to do so." Rodán smiled again."That is not the Nyx Ciar I know." I felt perplexed at his words, but he continued. "I am only asking for a little restraint on your behalf.""Can I think about it?" I brushed my palm over my belly, absently smoothing the silk of my dress. "I need a chance to let this digest. Not only that, but I do have my PI agency to consider. I'm not sure adding extra responsibility as a Tracker will help me in my day job as a PI.""Of course." Rodán raised his glass and sipped his wine. I watched the movement of his throat as he swallowed, observed his fluid grace as he set his wineglass on the table."It is my intention to groom Colin to take a leadership role," he said. "I would like him to start leading a special ops team."Warmth spread through me at the sound of Colin's name. Yet that warmth was followed by the feeling of confusion that had plagued me ever since my and Adam's breakup and Colin's insistent pursuit of me.Now was not the time to think of either of the two males. Detective Adam Boyd was no longer in my life, and Colin, a Dragon paranorm, wanted me to take things a step farther with him.It was times like this--being comfortable with my Drow appearance in this paranorm restaurant, and not worrying about how I looked at night--that made me realize it could never have worked with Adam. I couldn't look like I did right this moment and be out with him. However, I didn't have those same reservations with Colin, as far as dating another paranorm went.Still, at this moment there were more pressing things to consider than my love life."Is Desmond the only new Tracker whom you and the GG are considering?" I asked."I believe Tristan would make an excellent Night Tracker also," he said. "The Guardian agrees.""My brother?" I thought about him as a Tracker candidate. Tristan had been locked in a stone for twenty-two years, but to him it had been as if no time had passed. He'dreturned not recognizing me--I was no longer the five-year-old kid sister I'd been when he disappeared. He was now in Otherworld visiting with our parents."I hope he can be convinced," I finally said. "Though he was an artist before he was taken, never a warrior, I think he could be a tremendous Tracker.""Tristan has always been a warrior," Rodán said. "A warrior with an artist's skills. It is time to use all of his abilities. As a Tracker he could add much to the team with some training."We'll let him out in the field with you for a couple of days to give him an idea of what a Tracker's night is like," Rodán said. "Then we'll send him to the training program in Chicago. Once he's fully trained, we'll team him up with an experienced Tracker in New York City.""Rodán!" The pair of voices exclaiming his name came from a pair of blond Nymphs who stopped at our table. They looked like excited, giggly airheads as they bounced up and down on their toes. I recognized them--they were backup singers for Festival, a new paranorm rock band that I'd seen for the first time last weekend."Trixie." Rodán nodded to Nymph One. "Bubbles," he said to Nymph Two.Trixie and Bubbles. I had to bite my tongue to keep from laughing. It may not have been the first time I'd heard their stage names but it still got me. By the looks of the pair of airheads, I wondered if those were stage names, or their real ones.I settled back in my chair to watch. This should be good."We haven't seen you for a while." A small pout was on Trixie's lips. "Bubbles and I were just saying how much--" The Nymph glanced at me then back at Rodán. "--we have missed you."I didn't think that was exactly the sentiment she'd wanted to express.Then Bubbles said, "After we perform at the Pit next, are you going to invite us back to your chambers?"Uh-huh. That statement confirmed what I'd been thinking.I toyed with the stem of my crystal wineglass as Rodán gave them a smile that was entirely sensual. Rodán couldn't help it. He could simply have been trying to be polite, but no matter. His expression would still have the power to set a female on fire."I will talk with you beautiful ladies at another time." Rodán said it in a way that was appealing rather than off-putting. "At this moment I am enjoying Nyx's company.""Can't wait," Trixie said with a giant exclamation point in her voice. "We'll see you soon."Bubbles nodded with enthusiasm, her blond curls bouncing. "We'll be ready."I bet they would.Rodán gave a slight inclination of his head. "Have a good evening, ladies."The bubbling airheads slipped into the crowd in the bar but I could still hear their giggles. I wanted to roll my eyes but I smiled at Rodán instead. "Your adoring public."Rodán leaned back, holding his wineglass. He looked at me for a long time without saying anything.I tilted my head. "Are you all right?""You know that for you I would give up everything," he said quietly.My cheeks burned a little at the intimacy in his expression and in his words. "We both know you couldn't, Rodán." I continued even though he looked like he wanted to say something. "It's how you're wired. You're a sexual, sensual being and I get that," I said. "You would never be happy with one person.""With you ..." He looked thoughtful as he paused. "With you everything was different. You make me want to be with you alone."I was surprised. I had never heard Rodán say this before in quite this way."Then why weren't you?" I said, more out of curiosity than anything else. "You continued to see others while you and I slept together. If I made you feel different then why didn't you stop inviting others to your bed?"During the time I was with him, I'd never considered Rodán enjoying sexual pleasures with others as abnormal. He'd invited me to join in on the experiences, but I'd always refused. It wasn't my thing."One female would never satisfy you. Oh, maybe for a time, but I refer to a lifetime," I went on before he could respond. "I could never share the man I decide to be with. It just wouldn't happen."His green eyes were dark with something I couldn't identify. "For you I would give it all up."Warmth filled me as I studied the beautiful male sitting across the table. Rodán was truly like no other. Not a soul on this Earth Otherworld--or any Otherworld for that matter--could fully compare to my Proctor, former lover, and friend who was dear to me in more ways than I could count. What I felt for Rodán was different than my feelings for any other man."You know that I love you," I said quietly. "But I've always known that you have desires, you have lust for others. And I realized, in the end, I couldn't change that. I simply am thankful for our deep friendship now."Rodán opened his mouth to speak but I pushed back my chair and got to my feet.As he stood, his slight smile and a slow shake of his head indicated his understanding."I'm late getting to work and my boss is real hardcase," I said as I gave him a teasing look."Your employer told you to take the night off," Rodán said with an equally teasing expression. "Perhaps you should listen to him.""I don't think listening is one of my strengths." I moved toward Rodán and tilted my head to kiss his cheek. "I'll consider your offer on the leadership position," I said as I drew away. "Not the girlfriend spot."Rodán took my hands and kissed my cheek in return. "You would be the one, Nyx."At the same moment, three females came toward us from the direction of the bar. They were dressed in next-to-nothing.When they reached us, two of them took one of Rodán's arms and the third said to me, "You must learn to share."Rodán met my gaze and I raised my hands, amusement rising in me. "See? Have fun."He smiled at me then at the females who had swooped down to take him away. "One moment, please," he said to them. "I will join you shortly.""You'd better," one of the females said with a coy look on her delicate features. "Or we'll hunt you down."With another smile, Rodán gave a nod to the threesome, and they headed back to the bar.He took my hands in his. His grip was firm, comfortable. "Good night, sweet one." He brushed his lips across my cheek, and I kissed him again before I stepped back.I turned and headed out of the restaurant and into the night. My Corvette was parked in the underground lot, and the parking garage's dim lights shone off the sleek black car. Some Other Place wasn't far from my apartment which was at 104th and Central Park West. It was early yet, so I'd have enough time to change into my tracking gear and head on out.The late-April night was clear and cool. As much as I enjoy the change in seasons, I'd been so ready for spring and was glad to see it.When I reached my building, I parked, walked past my PI office on the ground level, and headed upstairs to my apartment.Through Mrs. Taylor's apartment door I heard her television blaring the latest reality TV show and I smelled cigarette smoke. Terror, her Chihuahua, yipped three times as I walked by.Kali, my blue Persian, hated Terror. I thought the rat-like dog had been lucky that Kali hadn't gotten hold of him.I reached my floor and came to an abrupt stop.Adam.He'd been standing with his shoulder hitched up against the wall, but when he saw me he straightened.So many feelings rushed over me as I met his warm brown eyes. Pain, desire, confusion, and love. Mostly love.Adam's sable-brown hair was ruffled as if he had just combed his fingers through it, adorable and sexy. His hands were stuffed into his bomber jacket, the brown leather well worn. At six-two he had me beat by about six inches in height. He had a lean, muscular build."Hi, Nyx." He looked nervous. "Can we talk?""This is so unexpected, but sure." I swallowed. "Come on in."My spine tingled as he stood behind me and I used a little bit of my air elemental magic to unlock my door. I opened the door and walked inside then held it open for him.The love I felt for Adam and the pain over our breakup never ceased to make me feel weak, and not at all like the strong female and powerful warrior that I am.I tossed my black clutch onto my white sofa and faced Adam. It was hard to keep my voice steady. "What do you need to talk with me about?"Adam hesitated. "I met someone. I just thought you should know."I felt light-headed, as if my head was separating from my body. I mentally drew it back and straightened my shoulders. Adam had met someone already?"You were right when you broke up with me in December," I said. "It wouldn't have worked between us. You're a norm, I'm a paranorm, and our worlds would never meet."Adam looked at the floor and then at me. He smelled so good. Of leather and his masculine scent that I had loved so much. "I never expected to meet someone else," he said. "Not after you, but I have."I know how you and I both feel about each other and always will. But we know why it ended." He lowered his voice "I just wanted you to hear it from me, Nyx.""I'm happy for you," I said and then was surprised that I meant it as much as I did. "I want you to be happy.""I am." He cleared his throat. "I think you would like Keri."Hearing the female's name made my stomach twist. Maybe I wasn't as totally over Adam as I'd thought I was. Or maybe it was just hard imagining another female with him at all.I studied his brown eyes, looking for signs of doubt. There were none. "You love her, so I'm sure I would like her."Adam held my gaze then started out the door. He paused and kissed the top of my head. "A part of me will always love you," he said quietly."I feel the same way." I looked down at him again. "I'll miss you.""I'll still be around." He gave me his adorable smile that showed off his dimple. "See you, Nyx."I nodded then closed the door behind him.For a moment I leaned with my back against the door and closed my eyes.Adam had found someone else. It was truly over. It was final. This was real. Adam was gone from my life, no matter what he said about seeing me around. Something told me I wouldn't be seeing him at all.Mentally setting aside everything that had happened tonight, I went to my closet. I pulled on black leather pants over red silky panties and a black leather top. The outfit was both durable and perfect for fighting when I tracked--and, well, beneath it all I just had to have something frilly even when I was tracking.Maybe a battle was what I needed to get my head on straight. I strapped my weapons belt on and headed out, determined to find a good fight.Copyright © 2011 by Cheyenne McCray. New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Cheyenne McCray writes the Night Tracker novels and the Armed and Dangerous series, among others. She grew up on a ranch in southeastern Arizona. She has been writing ever since she can remember, back to her kindergarten days when she penned her first poem. She always knew one day she would write novels—she wanted to create worlds that readers would get lost in, just as she had always gotten lost in her favorite books. “Growing up I read, read, and read,” she says, “and grew up to write, write, write.” She has three sons and two dogs. A true Arizona native, she loves the desert and all of the sunshine and beautiful sunsets that go along with it.