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“Jenner … you’re insatiable.”
Wasn’t that the fucking truth.
He sealed the punctures in the female’s throat. A slow sigh slipped from between her parted lips as he rolled her limp body off of his chest and onto the mattress beside him. He hadn’t even bothered to get her name, but she sure as hell knew his. Came with the territory when you were one of only a few vampires in a sea of hopeful dhampirs.
Was it so bad that he’d used her body and taken her vein? As a dhampir, she nourished herself from his life force. Whether intentionally or not, she’d used him as well. Besides, he’d made sure she’d gotten off. A few times. He doubted she’d be complaining anytime soon. Hell, he doubted she’d be doing much of anything for a good, long while. Over the course of the night he’d exhausted her body and nearly drained it of blood. In hindsight, he should have gone easier on her, but there wasn’t a whole hell of a lot he could do about that now.
Jenner pushed himself up and swung his legs over the side of the bed as he cradled his head in his palms. The female reached out for him, her arm flopping onto the mattress beside him, hand groping lazily.
“Don’t leave.…” The words were barely coherent. “Spend the day with me.”
The day? Jesus. The thought of being trapped there with her past sunrise caused Jenner to break out into a cold sweat. He wasn’t a stay-over sort of male. And he didn’t want to give her the impression that what had happened between them was anything more than what it had been. Did that make him a heartless son of a bitch? Probably. He was already soulless. He couldn’t feel regret over his recent whoring ways if he’d wanted to. He fucked. Fed. Survived. There was little else to his existence at this point.
“Gotta jet, honey.” What the fuck was her name, anyway? He really needed to start nailing that shit down from the get-go. “Mikhail has strict rules about being away from home base once the sun’s up.”
That wasn’t entirely true, but she didn’t need to know that. Security had certainly become the king’s priority over the past few months. Especially with Gregor—the berserker warlord hell-bent on the vampire race’s destruction—still unaccounted for and Mikhail’s mate, Claire, at the end of her pregnancy. So yeah, he wanted Jenner close, but it’s not like he had a curfew or some shit.
“Mmmmm. You wiped me out, baby.”
At least, that’s what Jenner thought she said. With her muffled words she could have muttered anything. He glanced over his shoulder at her, all naked willowy limbs and bronze skin. Well, it’d been bronze when they’d started their play earlier in the night. Now her complexion bore an ashen pallor as a result of the amount of blood he’d taken from her. Gods-damn it. Jenner let out a gust of breath. Leaving her weak and helpless would be a class-A dick move. Feeding her from his vein would help to replenish her strength, and he hadn’t drained her to the point that doing so would trigger her transition. He really would have his ass in a sling if that happened. Mikhail had some very strict—not to mention archaic—rules about which dhampirs would be turned. Jenner snorted. By trying to keep the growth of their race under control, his king had inadvertently resurrected a classist system that was sure to enrage more than a few dhampirs. Not to mention rally others to Siobhan’s cause.
Siobhan. Fuck. He’d assured Mikhail that he’d drop in on the female before sunup. In his haste to fuck and feed from the female currently lounging beside him, he’d forgotten all about Siobhan. Time to GTFO.
Jenner leaned back on the bed and scored his wrist with his fangs. He brought his arm to the female’s mouth and her eyes drifted dreamily from his face to the four droplets of blood that formed on his wrist. A lazy smile settled on her lips before she sealed her mouth over the punctures and began to suck. Jenner’s cock stirred, and for a moment he considered doing as she’d asked and staying right there for the duration of the day. She moaned against his flesh and a shiver raced down his spine and settled in his balls.
“Gotta go, sweetheart.” As much as he wanted to bury his cock in her one more time, he had things to do and pissing off Mikhail wasn’t on the list.
Her tongue passed over the punctures—gods, it felt good—and she pulled away with a sensual moan. “Your blood is like a drug, Jenner. Just a sip and I’m wired.”
He wished he knew what that felt like. His own addiction to blood and sex had been reduced to a base need that found no satiation or satisfaction. The thirst was an unquenchable fire in his throat, his body ached for release, and it didn’t matter how much he drank or fucked. The desperate need never went away.
He was empty. Soulless. And nothing he did served to make Jenner feel full.
“Get some sleep.”
Her bottom lip protruded in a pout. “Isn’t there anything I can do to convince you to stay?”
His eyes wandered down the length of her naked body, pausing at the swell of her breasts. Jenner swallowed down a groan and reached for his jeans. “Short of an order from my king, no.” He leaned down and placed a quick kiss on her cheek. “I’ll see you around.”
“Don’t be a stranger, baby,” she purred after he finished dressing and headed for the door.
Jenner paused, his hand on the knob. Stranger. She had it spot-on. He didn’t have a fucking clue who he was anymore. He made his way through the tiny apartment, closed the door behind him, and stepped out into the cool spring night. With a long, exhausted breath, he straddled his bike and reached for the handlebars when his cell rang. He fished it out of his pocket and answered, “I’m on my way to Siobhan’s now. Tell Mikhail to hold his horses.”
“That can wait.” Ronan’s tone was all business tonight. “Meet me at my office first.”
“I’ll be there in ten minutes.” Luckily, he was close to downtown.
“Good.” Ronan disconnected the call without another word.
Great. Looked like it was going to be a long night. Jenner took another deep breath and stretched his neck from side to side. He’d been reckless tonight. Taken too much of the female’s blood and let his control slip too far. A single thought resonated in his mind and he shuddered: Monster.
* * *
Jenner walked into Ronan’s office, half-expecting to see Mikhail there as well, intervention-style. Only Ronan knew the truth of Jenner’s worries, and the male would be stupid not to share in them. The past several months of his transition had only served to prove that Jenner was everything he’d ever feared he would become. For weeks, he’d been expecting the hammer to drop. For Ronan to confront him or for Mikhail to pronounce his death sentence. He wanted to feel relieved for yet another stay of execution, but as Jenner took note of the dhampir male sitting opposite Ronan a strange tingle of anticipation raced down his spine. The male gave Jenner a sidelong look and barely concealed the curl of his lip as he regarded him. Awesome.
“Now that we’re all here,” Ronan said in the down-to-business tone that made him the consummate professional, “why don’t we get down to brass tacks. Jenner, this is Thomas Fairchild.”
A coven master. Fucking great. That’s all Jenner needed. Some aristocratic asshole looking down his nose at him. Jenner opted to skip the formalities and gave the male a slight nod. Fairchild didn’t seem to notice—or care—as he straightened in his seat and adjusted the sleeves of his suit jacket. Straightlaced. Stuck-up. Obviously rich. And probably as classist as they came. Fairchild’s coven resided on the outskirts of Los Angeles and its members were secretive and reclusive. No one knew much about them. As far as the thirteen covens were concerned, Fairchild’s lot were outcasts. Some thought them zealots or separatists like Siobhan’s coven.
“As I told you on the phone, I’ve heard that you’re a male who solves problems,” Fairchild began in an equally crisp and haughty tone. “I have a problem. I assume that in your current condition, you can help me.”
“Current condition?” Ronan cut Jenner a look as he smiled wide enough to showcase his dual sets of fangs. Jenner swallowed down his amusement and folded his arms across his wide chest as he waited for Ronan to bring on the charm. “Are you uncomfortable with the term ‘vampire,’ Mr. Fairchild?”
The male cleared his throat nervously and Jenner’s mouth quirked at the corner. The scent of Fairchild’s anxiety and fear perfumed the air. It shouldn’t have pleased Jenner so much to see the aristocratic male in distress, but he couldn’t help himself.
“My niece,” Fairchild continued without responding. “She’s in need of protection.”
Again, Ronan glanced Jenner’s way, his brow cocked curiously. “From what?”
“A witch,” Fairchild replied.
A palpable wave of concern wafted from Ronan. His mate, Naya, was a witch. He scooted to the edge of his seat as he leaned farther over the desk. “I’m afraid you’re going to have to be more specific.”
Fairchild cast another glance Jenner’s way as though he couldn’t be trusted to hear the delicate details. Please. Jenner had been forced to suffer the prejudices of assholes like Fairchild his entire life. That he had to suffer them now—in his own place of employment—dug into his skin like a tick.
“You see that big, scary-looking vampire right there?” Ronan apparently sensed Fairchild’s distaste as well. “He’s the one who’s going to be protecting your niece. So I suggest whatever issues you have with him you get over. Quickly. Otherwise, you can take yourself out the way you came.”
Jenner appreciated the solidarity, but he suspected that Fairchild saw what Jenner saw every time he looked in the mirror: a creature that should have been put down a long damned time ago.
Fairchild gave an almost indiscernible nod. “A dark witch has been searching for my niece for centuries. I’ve kept her hidden—protected,” he amended. “But she’s headstrong and no longer content to accept that she must exercise caution at all times. I suspect that she’s been exercising her freedom, sneaking out of the compound at night. She’s quite resourceful, you see. I need someone who can track her. Watch over her and keep her safe.”
“So you want us to follow her around without her knowledge?” Ronan asked. “Provide personal security when she’s out and nothing else?”
“Not exactly,” Fairchild said. “I also want you to find the witch. And kill her.”
“For what reason is she hunting your niece?” Ronan asked, his eyes narrowed with suspicion.
“Reasons that I don’t care to share,” Fairchild remarked in his insufferably stuffy tone. “Surely someone in your line of work can appreciate discretion. All you need to know is that my niece is in danger. I want that danger eliminated if possible.”
“How do you expect us to do that?” Ronan said.
“If I knew how,” Fairchild remarked, “I wouldn’t have come to you for help, would I?”
“We can offer her protection,” Ronan said. “But until I have more details about this witch I can’t help you with finding her or killing her.”
Fairchild gave a thoughtful nod. “Trust has to be earned, I suppose. We’ll start our relationship with protection only. If I deem you trustworthy, I’ll explain more of the situation and we can move forward from there.”
“Fine,” Ronan replied.
Jenner swallowed down a derisive snort. Males like Fairchild were all the same. Stuck-up, self-righteous, covetous sons of bitches. Like he didn’t have enough on his plate, now Jenner was going to have to babysit some prim and snotty female who had more money than sense. She probably crawled out of her window at night and headed straight for the club district. He’d rather fall on a slayer’s stake.
“We’ll work out the details, and Jenner can start Monday.”
“Why Monday?” Fairchild’s tone hitched with annoyance. “That’s three days away.”
“Because Jenner has other responsibilities,” Ronan stressed. “Monday. Or nothing.”
“Very well.” The male reached in his jacket pocket and pulled out a checkbook.
Jenner didn’t need to be here for this part. He knew how his time would be spent after this week. Gods. As though his existence weren’t tortured enough. “You need me for anything else?” Jenner asked. “Otherwise, I can take care of that other bit of business we have.”
Ronan’s brow puckered as though he’d forgotten all about Siobhan. The lightbulb came on and his mouth puckered. “Yeah. Might as well get that out of the way, too.”
The idea of dealing with the female was as unsavory to Ronan as it was Jenner. She was a raging pain in the ass. One who had to be dealt with whether they wanted to or not. Would this night ever end? For once, Jenner couldn’t wait for the sun to rise.
* * *
“You look like shit, Jenner.” Siobhan never was one to mince words. The female’s tongue was as sharp as a well-honed blade. Jenner couldn’t disagree, though. It had been one bitch of a long night. “I can’t imagine that your king appreciates how much time you’ve dedicated to whoring your way from one end of the city to the other.”
Her disdainful tone didn’t go unnoticed. There was no love lost between the self-proclaimed dhampir queen and his king. If it was possible, she’d gotten even nastier since the race’s resurrection. No doubt she was attempting to bait Jenner with her insults, but he wasn’t biting.
“Have you managed to find out why the werewolf is so interested in you?”
For months a rogue werewolf had been tracking Siobhan’s every move. Jenner suspected he was on the Sortiari payroll and that the guardians of Fate were using Siobhan as bait to coax Gregor into the open in much the same way Mikhail had been. Jenner had no idea what the female’s history was with the berserker. All he’d been told was that it had been violent and bloody. He doubted the Sortiari knew any of the details, either. Where Mikhail had intimate knowledge of Siobhan’s history, the Sortiari used seers to guide them in the right direction. Fucking fortune-tellers and fanatics. The Sortiari were nothing more than a pain in the ass.
“As if I’d tell your king anything.”
She sat on her makeshift throne, legs tucked daintily beneath her. She painted a lovely image, prim and delicate. A convincing illusion, to be sure. There was nothing soft or helpless about her.
“What makes you think I’m not asking for myself?”
She answered with a derisive snort.
“Who is he, Siobhan?”
She deflected like a pro, “How much longer is Mikhail going to keep Chelle from me?”
“Mikhail isn’t keeping anyone from you.”
“Careful, Jenner. I can smell the lies on your skin.”
“I’m sure you like to think so.”
The truth was, Chelle was being kept from everyone, not just Siobhan. Ronan’s twin had been turned not by the bite and blood of a vampire, but through the power of a magical coffin that, according to legend, was the origin of the entire vampire race. Not even Ronan was convinced that his sister was harmless. Chelle was volatile. Her thirst still raged and her new vampiric existence was unnerving as hell. As was her disconnection from the Collective. She’d become secretive since her turning. No one but Chelle had any knowledge of the extent of her power, her physiology, or her abilities. Unleashing a variable like that on the world could be a dangerous thing indeed. Jenner knew that the only reason she’d allowed herself to be hidden away was because Ronan had asked her to cooperate. It wouldn’t be long, though, before she tired of captivity and left Mikhail’s guesthouse of her own volition.
Every vampire living shared in the collective memories of the race. Interconnected like a grove of aspen trees, their blood, their memories, were one. But Chelle appeared to be a species unto herself, an offshoot of the original line, and it served to reason that any dhampirs she changed would become as saplings to her bloodline. Not exactly something that Mikhail wanted to become common knowledge so early on in the race’s infancy.
Especially when Siobhan possessed the very chest that had transformed Chelle.
Ronan had traded the chest for his freedom from a blood troth made to the female and Jenner admired the male’s ingenuity. Knowing that Siobhan disdained all of vampire-kind, he’d been confident that by placing the chest in her safekeeping it would be hidden away where no other dhampir would find it or use it. Mikhail was dubious. Placing power like that in the hands of a female who might as well be his enemy was risky. Which was another reason why Jenner had been stuck to her like glue for months. Mikhail was determined to stay one step ahead of her at all times.
“I’ll make a deal with you.” Siobhan’s lips spread in a calculating smile. “Let me see Chelle, and I’ll be more than happy to share everything I know about the rogue with you.”
Intel on one rogue werewolf was going to cost Mikhail a face-to-face with Chelle? “That’s not going to happen.”
“Too bad,” Siobhan responded on a wistful sigh. “That is my condition for sharing information. Quid pro quo. Tell your king he can take my offer or leave it.”
Jenner didn’t have to offer her terms to Mikhail. He already knew what his king’s response would be. “Take care you don’t back yourself into a corner, Siobhan. An island is a lonely place to live.”
“I neither want nor need your counsel, Jenner. Now get the hell out of my sight before I have Carrig throw you out.”
Another useless conversation, and still chasing his tail. He would’ve been better off staying with the lusty female in her apartment. Jenner inclined his head to Siobhan ever so slightly. “May the day treat you well, Siobhan.”
“I’m sure it will,” she said with a dismissive flick of her wrist. “Sun’s about to rise; I suggest you run to your hole, vampire.”
Gods, she was bound to cause all of them a shitload of trouble.
* * *
Bria Fairchild balanced on the ledge of the high-rise and stared down at the city below. The wind whipped at her long ponytail and she pulled her dark hood up over her head to shield her not only from prying eyes but also from the chill. Under the cover of night, she was free to do as she wished without her uncle’s rigid rules and obsessive protection weighing her down. He’d gone out tonight, which was rare, but she’d used the situation to her advantage. Over the years she’d become an adept escape artist and could circumvent the locks, high-tech alarm systems, and high fences that protected his coven from a witch who had hunted their family for centuries.
Atop the high building, Bria didn’t fear a threat she’d never seen. She didn’t fear anything.
She tightened the backpack against her body and took off at a full run. The wind whipped her hood from her head and her eyes watered. She ran like the traceurs—the free-runners and parkourists—who used the urban cityscape as their personal playgrounds. Bria had studied their movements for decades, long before parkour became an Internet sensation. Her dhampir physiology was perfectly suited for free-running. She could jump high, run fast; her movements were agile and fluid.
These stolen moments in the dark of night were her only taste of freedom. Once per month she allowed herself to leave the confines of her uncle’s coven, and for that night she was free.
Bria negotiated a large roof vent. She braced her hands on the metal dome and launched her body over it in a graceful arch. Her feet came down silently and she whispered through the night as quiet as the breeze that stirred around her. With the edge of the building’s roof in sight, Bria pushed herself harder. Faster. Her arms pumped and her breath sawed in and out of her chest. A quick hop sent her up onto the ledge and she used her speed to propel herself into the air.
For a moment she was weightless. Floating. She soared across the space from one building to the next as though hopping over a puddle. When her feet made contact with the roof of the building she let her knees give out and landed in a roll before she came to her feet once again. The landing did nothing to slow her down. She continued to run, vaulted off of another roof vent, and propelled herself into a front flip. Bria ran, dove, twisted, and turned until her muscles ached and she was out of breath. But still, she didn’t stop. She’d achieved the flow state, where the parkourist’s confidence outweighed everything else. Caution, fear, doubt, no longer existed. Her body was perfectly in tune with her mind and focus. The world melted away.
Bria once again breached the space between one roof and another, and this time when she landed she came to rest. She pulled the GPS from her backpack and checked the coordinates. Perfect.
The members of their coven were forbidden outside relationships. It was too dangerous, the world too uncertain. Slayers had come to Los Angeles and attacks on dhampirs had become more common. The vampire race had reawakened and the slayers had taken up their ancient cause of eradication. Not even the dhampirs were safe. Of course, the slayers were the least of Bria’s uncle’s worries. What Thomas Fairchild truly feared was wielders of magic. Witches. They were the reason his coven lived in a nearly impenetrable compound. All for his and Bria’s protection. In all of the nights she’d ventured out over the centuries, she’d yet to encounter a single witch, let alone one who had a vendetta against them. Though, when leaping from rooftop to rooftop, Bria supposed the chances of running into another living creature—witch or otherwise—were slim.
She’d never had friends who didn’t belong to her coven. Had never known any other creatures but her own kind. But Bria had found a way to reach out to the outside world. The invention of the Internet had saved her from a life of desperate loneliness. And tonight’s outing was a part of one of her latest Internet obsessions.
She pulled a long metal tube from her backpack and unscrewed the lid. She tucked an ancient ring, a gold coin, and a length of antique lace inside along with a pencil and logbook before closing it. Bria tucked the tube behind an air-conditioning unit and logged the coordinates for the location of the container into her GPS. When she returned home, she’d leave the coordinates on the geocaching Web site’s message board for another treasure seeker to find.
A smile curved her lips as anticipation coiled tight in her stomach.
These stolen moments of freedom might not have been the life Bria had hoped to live, but she made the best of it. She’d thought about leaving the coven. Of finding another group of dhampirs to take shelter with. She still might, someday. Each time she left the compound her hunger for independence grew. It wouldn’t be long before her uncle could no longer keep her there whether it was for her protection or not.
The first streaks of dawn made their appearance in the eastern sky. Sunrise was an hour, maybe two, off and she needed to return home before anyone realized she was gone. She raced back through the city the way she’d come, across the rooftops where no one would notice her. When she reached the outskirts of the city she kept to the shadows and slowed to an easy jog. Miles melted away under her feet and in the space of an hour she’d managed to find her way back to the compound. Bria came to a halt just outside the chain-link fence that surrounded her home as the cacophony of frightened screams and the sounds of a fight reached her preternatural ears.
Bria’s heart leapt into her throat. The coven was under attack. Whether from slayers or witches she didn’t know, but she didn’t have time to consider her options. Her uncle needed her. Her coven needed her. She dug deep and found that place inside of herself where fear did not exist as she searched for a weak spot in the fence where she could circumvent the razor wire. She quickly scaled the links and vaulted herself to the other side, where she landed on her feet without a sound.
She would fight whatever creature awaited her inside the walls of her home. To the death if that’s what it took to protect those she cared about.
Copyright © 2016 by Kate Baxter