The shot rang like a bell of doom through the gravestones, hurting my ears. It was the first time I’d ever fired it outside of a shooting range.
Blood sprayed onto my face and some of it found my mouth. Then more did, as the vampire collapsed on top of me. I choked while trying to say “Shit.”
“You have got to be the rankest amateur I’ve ever seen.” It was a man’s voice. Hands flipped the vampire off. Lying prone and blinking away blood, I couldn’t make out the color of his hair or eyes, or even see his face very well. He looked tall, lean body straightening. My gaze moved to his throat, and he sighed. “You swallowed some of the blood.”
“It was on top of me.” The night was dimming, but he was glowing dull red. “I’m seeing things.”
“It’ll wear off in a few hours.” Stepping over me, he turned and knelt beside the vampire.
I sat up, fascinated by the red aura around him. “What is it?”
“Blood. You’re seeing blood.” Pulling a knife out, he began cutting the vamp’s head off. “I’m guessing this is your first hunt. You missed the heart.”
“No, it isn’t. My second thank you very much.” My snappish tone didn’t seem to faze him.
“If you didn’t destroy the heart and remove the head, then you didn’t bag one.”
“I burned the body. Psi-witch.” He backed away when the vamp’s clothing began to smoke. Thanks to the dose of vamp blood, I had to cover my eyes when its body burst into flame. “Ow. Bright.”
A hand slid around mine, relieving me of the gun. “How much did you swallow?”
My stomach growled. He smelled delicious. “Enough that I don’t think being this close is a good idea.”
“I’ll take my chances.” Wrapping a hand around my forearm, he helped me to my feet. I turned my head to peep through my fingers, and discovered that he was only a few inches taller. “Do you have a name?”
“Randi. What’s yours?”
I could sense that he was lying. “You don’t look like a Tony.”
He chuckled. “What do I look like?”
“Dinner.” With a twist to free my arm, I grabbed one of his wrists, then the other, while stepping forward. He ducked his chin and my teeth missed his throat. Growling, I shoved and we both went down.
My gun fell from his hand. Calmly, he said, “It’s temporary. Don’t do anything I’ll have to make you regret.”
Straddling him, pinning his wrists to the ground by his shoulders, I leaned to sniff his cheek. “I’m hungry.”
“Is empathy one of your powers?”
I nodded, and then licked along the line of his jaw. ‘Tony’ bucked his hips, throwing me off balance. It was enough to free one of his hands, and he grabbed a handful of my hair. With a yank and a thrust of one leg, he sent us over sideways.
A second later, I was on my back with him spread full length on top. He licked blood off my face. “Now,” he whispered. “We’re on level playing ground.”
“What…” His mouth sealed over mine, preventing the rest of my question. The hunger for blood flared and changed. Lust poured into my mind, and flooded my body.
Yanking free, he rose smoothly to his feet. “Get up.” I obeyed, licking my lips. His smile was almost too faint to make out through the reddish haze. “Get your gun and come on.”
“Where?” He ignored the question, walking away. Snatching up my gun, I pushed at the burning vamp with a little more power before hurrying after him.
‘Where’ turned out to be a motel room. I’d spent most of the drive trying to pull his clothes off and cursing at his repetition of “Wait.” Being alone with a stranger, lust burning hot, should have worried me. It wasn’t my habit to blithely screw any guy who came along.
He shut the door. “Now.”
I fell on him like a starving dog, tearing at his shirt. He wasn’t exactly gentle about removing my clothing either. When I tried to go down on him, he snapped “No!” and shoved. Sent sprawling across the bed, a sullen growl escaped my lips.
Climbing onto the bed, and me, he pinned my wrists above my head. Before I could guess where his other hand was, he thrust into me. A noise between a yelp and a moan rolled out of my throat. The aura of red intensified until he looked like a man made of bloody flame.
Some small sense of self-preservation rose, and I followed the trail of lust to plant a temporary link. He paused as the sensations he felt intensified by those I was feeling. “Worried?”
“Warning you that I’m not helpless.” The final word was a hiss, like that of an angry, cornered vampire.
“Consider me warned.” He began moving, and soon, the only sounds both of us made were animalistic noises. We fucked for what felt like hours, changing positions at his whim. The pleasure built and held.
I was on the very edge and stayed there. Wanting it, I managed to say something remotely coherent, and pleading. He dragged me to the edge of the bed, standing between my legs to plunge hard and deep.
Slick with sweat, shaking from frustration and growing exhaustion, I felt immense relief when my orgasm finally blazed through. It was pure, molten ecstasy and I shrieked. A hoarse, half shout followed as he came.
My arms gave out, dumping me face first onto the sheets. Hands digging into my hips, he held us tightly together for a few seconds longer. I turned my head, blinked, and gasped, “I can’t see a friggin’ thing.”
He withdrew and let go. “It’ll pass. It’s just the last of the vamp blood breaking down.”
The mattress gave as he put a knee on it. Strong hands pulled and tugged until I was lying properly on the bed, with a pillow under my head.
I passed out.
Consciousness slowly filtered back, until I remembered where I was. Waking fully, pushing my hair out of my face, I discovered my clothing. It was neatly folded, and stacked on the nightstand. My gun and keys lay on top of the pile.
He was gone.
Shoving the covers off, I slid out of bed and went to peek out the window. The SUV he’d been driving wasn’t in sight, but my small sedan was. “Guess he’s not crazy about the morning after.”
Thirty minutes later, showered and dressed, I left the room. A note lay in the passenger seat of my car.
Now you know what happens when you ingest vamp blood. You were right. My name’s not Tony.
Watch your back, amateur.
Sitting in my car, I stared at the last word. There was only one hunter known by that name – in fact, it was the only name anyone knew him by.
I’d fucked Drake Shanach; the legendary, feared, best damn hunter in existence.
Fucked him, and wouldn’t know him from Adam if he walked up to me right that minute. Maybe I’d recognize him if I heard his voice, but his face was only a vague, reddish glow in my mind.
Much clearer were the memories of the lust that had poured from his mind, and how his body felt.
Drake didn’t pal around with other hunters. I’d never heard even a rumor of his screwing around with any of the few women who hunted.
I reread the last line of the note: Watch your back, amateur. Setting it down, I started my car before pulling my shades on. After backing out of the parking space, I checked around the parking lot for his SUV while slowly driving through, but didn’t see it.
Keeping my mouth shut was the smart thing to do. Especially since I’d sort of threatened him. Drake wasn’t anyone to be pissing off. For all I freaking knew, he was a psi-witch too.
That would explain his eleven-year career and 753 kill record. Hunters normally didn’t have a long life expectancy. Mine would dwindle to nothing if he showed up pissed because I’d kissed and told.
“Lips are zipped,” I said, and left the motel parking lot to head for home.
What a night.
“Where the hell have you been?” Chad yanked the car door open before I’d even turned the engine off.
“I did the job. What I do once off the clock is my business.” Unbuckling my seatbelt, I tried to blank my expression before looking at him. “Do you mind? You’re in my way.”
He stepped back, a scowl wrinkling the scarred furrow that graced his left cheek. “You didn’t call in to report.”
“Sorry, I forgot.” Climbing out, I was glad I’d thought to shove the note into my purse while at a stoplight. “The job’s done, and I burned the body.”
“That I know. You also dropped your phone.” He held up my cell phone, lifting it higher when I reached for it. “Look, Randi…”
“Save it. And give me my phone.” Not for the first time, I regretted ever having gotten involved with him.
He lowered the phone, and didn’t prevent my taking it. “We need to talk.”
“About what?” I dropped the phone into my purse while stepping clear of the car door. He shoved it closed, jaws clenched. Taking a deep breath, he slowly released it before speaking.
“Regardless of anything else, I’m your mentor. We have rules, Randi. You’re supposed to report in after a kill.” His eyes, an oddly pale hazel, scanned me from head to toe. The slightest frown appeared. “Are you seeing someone?”
Stepping around him, I headed for my apartment. “That’s none of your business.”
“If it causes you to break the rules, it is.” He’d turned, striding along behind me. “You want to tell me why your car was left there?”
“No.” Stabbing the key into the lock, I twisted it and opened the door. Had he stuck around, seen Drake arrive to get my car? That would be bad, since Chad had a jealous streak roughly ten miles wide. “What are you doing, spying on me?”
“You didn’t call in, so I went to make certain you weren’t dead.”
I frowned, stepping inside, and he followed before I could turn around. “Hey, I didn’t invite you in.”
“No, you didn’t,” he agreed, looking around with a suspicious expression. “You haven’t graduated yet, Randi. If you break the rules, you won’t.”
“Are you threatening me?” I glared while dropping my purse onto the couch. “Seriously?”
He shook his head, eyes still searching the living room. “It’s not a threat. If you don’t follow the rules, you don’t graduate.”
“And you’d just love that, wouldn’t you?” The fact I’d wanted to be a hunter was part of the reason we’d broken up. Chad didn’t think women should be in the profession of hunting down vampires and other creatures who preyed on humans. I still hadn’t worked out the reasoning of him being my mentor. Our relationship hadn’t been a secret. Then again, Kemble was his best friend. Chad might have asked him for a favor.
“No one I’ve mentored has failed to graduate.” Reaching past me, he shut the door. “Much as I hate to admit it, you’re a natural hunter.”
High praise and it briefly stunned me, hearing it. “That must have hurt to say.”
“Could you drop the attitude for two minutes?” Chad caught my chin with strong fingers. “I was worried about you.”
“I’m fine.” A jerk of my head freed me, and I stepped back. “I won’t forget to report in again.”
He let his hand fall, eyes closing briefly. “Good, see that you don’t.”
“So you can leave now.”
A scowl appeared, his eyebrows drawing down. “That’s it? I tell you that I was worried, and you can’t even thaw enough to say thank you?”
“In case you didn’t notice, I’m still angry with you.” We’d traded several ugly words the night we’d broken up. He’d hurt my feelings, and it was in my nature to hold grudges.
With a bitter twist to his lips, Chad quietly laughed. “It’s been ten months, Randi. You’ve proven me wrong. I’m sorry I underestimated you. Is that what you want to hear?”
“Yes, but you’ve said it ten months too late.” I needed something to drink. There was an odd taste hanging in the back of my throat. Walking away to the kitchen, I began to set up the coffee pot. He appeared in the doorway, running a hand through his dark blonde hair.
“Is it really so wrong that I want to keep you safe? This isn’t an easy profession, Randi.”
“No, that wasn’t what you did wrong. Deciding that I wasn’t capable of keeping myself safe was your mistake. I’m a psi-witch, Chad, not a helpless human.”
He sighed, moving to the table, and sat down. “I know that. But knowing it doesn’t negate the fact that I love you, and would rather you find something that doesn’t put you face to face with beings that can kill you.”
I love you. The words echoed in my mind while I pulled out two mugs. He did, and I knew it, but wasn’t sure that I still loved him. Unbidden, a memory of the night before rose and I experienced a minor flashback, feeling Drake buried deep, his mouth locked over mine.
Fingers tightening on the mugs, I closed my eyes and tried to banish it. Chad spoke in a low voice. “So who is he?”
“He, who?” I put the mugs down on the counter, and busied myself with pulling out spoons and sugar.
“The guy you fucked last night. Don’t lie and say that’s not what happened. You have that look.”
Turning around, I forced a laugh. “What look?”
“Randi, I know what the hell you look like after sex.” He glared.
“Okay, you know what? It’s none of your business. Whom I have sex with stopped being your business when we broke up.” I raised a hand to keep him from saying anything. “So you can stuff your jealousy, Chad.”
He shook his head, lips flattening into a thin line. “It’s not that easy, Randi. We had something good. You said you loved me, and you know how I feel about you.”
“You said I was stupid for wanting to become a hunter. That I couldn’t handle the pressure and danger of it, just because I’m a woman.” Crossing my arms, I glared back.
Chad struck the tabletop with a heavy hand, and I flinched. “I wasn’t the only one name calling that night. Everything I said was true, Randi. Statistically, and historically, women don’t last as hunters. They get killed, or go crazy, or commit suicide, unable to deal with the killing.”
“They were human women, with barely a drop of Fae blood. I’m a psi-witch.” Letting my arms fall, I curled my hands into fists. “I haven’t been completely helpless since I was nine years old, Chad.”
“Maybe not, but you can’t count on your power working on every vampire, or anything else that comes along. Jesus, Randi, has it even once occurred to you that if you get killed doing this, a part of me will die right along with you?”
“My life isn’t yours to control. It’s mine to live. You’ve kicked my ass every day since I began training. I can do this job, probably better than half of the others in training with me.” The coffee maker beeped, signaling the end of its brewing cycle. I turned around to pour.
“You’re better than any of the others,” he quietly said. “I’m sorry for the way I went about trying to convince you not to do this. Since you did, I wanted to make certain you were properly trained.”
Carrying the coffee over to the table, I offered him a mug before sitting down. “You have, I am, and I have two kills under my belt already. One more and I graduate.”
There was no way I could explain not calling in. Telling him that I’d swallowed a mouthful of vampire blood would just convince him all over again that I shouldn’t be pursuing a career as a hunter.
Last night’s vampire had been immune to suggestion. I’d have been a sitting duck if not for my gun. Chad had made certain I could handle it and other weapons, that I was prepared in case my abilities had no effect on my prey.
I couldn’t even tell him all of his efforts were the only reason I’d walked away last night. Though considering Drake had been lurking about, I probably would have lived anyway. Hunters didn’t turn their backs on other hunters. He would’ve stepped in and gotten a shot off, or done something, before the vampire killed or turned me.
Chad gazed at me while we sipped coffee. “I want a second chance, Randi.”
“I can’t give you one. Not right now. Maybe not ever.”
Expression turning grim, he said, “Because of the guy you were with last night?”
“No, it’s because we don’t fit together. You were fine about my repossessing cars, but you know what? That’s not exactly a safe job either. I’ve had guns shoved in my face, been threatened with knives, and had to handle having dogs set on me.”
Chad was shaking his head before I finished. “You’re dealing with humans and normal animals. And we did fit together, Randi.”
“Until I decided I wanted to make a career switch.” I set my mug down, preparing to rise. He surprised me, leaning forward to lay a hand over mine.
“Would you at least think about giving us a second chance?”
Studying his face, I hesitated before finally nodding in agreement.
He left after I gave a highly edited version of the events of the previous night, completely leaving out everything after I shot the vampire, other than burning the body. Except for lying that I’d left my car there to meet a date.
To my surprise, he didn’t push me to find out any details about the date.
Chad didn’t know the reason behind my decision to become a hunter. No one did, as far as I knew. I couldn’t be certain the Church would license me if anyone found out. Hunters were usually men, recruited by the Church from bloodlines it had kept careful track of through the centuries.
Since I had no clue who my father was – my mother had put ‘Unknown’ on my birth certificate – they couldn’t check their records to find out which bloodline I’d descended from. Being a psi-witch was the only reason my application was accepted.
The official version was a burglary gone badly, but I’d seen the creature that had killed my mother. Even two decades later, I could still hear the quiet sounds of him drinking her blood. See him slicing her throat up to hide the marks of his fangs.
Her death had saved my life, because the smell of her blood covered my presence. Child or not, I’d known that no one would believe me if I told them a vampire had killed her.
The trauma had triggered the awakening of my power, which was something else I’d tried to keep secret. I wasn’t entirely successful. The social worker assigned to my case heard of a few strange events from my foster parents.
She’d been a Church employee – the Church was always searching for people with special talents to ‘save’. They arranged an adoption; a couple who belonged to the Church became my parents, and then I was trained to use my power by a male psi-witch.
I’d left the Church after my eighteenth birthday, but not because of any hidden agendas. I had wanted a normal life. I wandered from job to job, until landing one as a repo person. During a late night job, I’d witnessed Chad taking down a vampire.
No one had told me that the Church had such people working for it. The revelation had set my need for revenge on fire, and led to a relationship with him.
Chad had never held back from sharing his feelings, verbally or mentally, whether good or bad. His openness had been great, until I said that I wanted to take hunter training.
That one night had shredded our year old relationship to pieces, as well as our trust in each other.
I had no idea if it would be possible to rebuild either.